We tested a population of over 60 patients with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) for changes in the structure and expression of the p53 gene, which is located on chromosome 17. Six of 27 (22%) blast crisis samples and 3 of 5 (60%) accelerated phase samples had rearrangements of chromosome 17, whereas only 3 of 42 (7%) chronic phase patients had cytogenetic changes in chromosome 17. There was no loss of heterozygosity during the transition to blastic crisis among seven individuals who were informative for polymorphic probes for regions in or around the p53 gene on 17p. One patient in the chronic phase and one patient in the blastic phase of the 61 CML patients studied exhibited rearrangements of the p53 gene that were detectable by Southern analysis. One p53 allele was rearranged in the chronic phase patient and both p53 alleles were rearranged in the blastic phase patient. The p53 messenger RNA (mRNA) was of normal size (2.8 kb) in chronic phase and blast crisis, and the expression of the p53 gene was at least as high or higher in blast crisis as in the chronic phase of CML. The high incidence of abnormalities of chromosome 17 in blast-crisis CML found in our studies and the discovery of rearrangements of the p53 gene in two CML patients studied suggest that further study with probes for the p53 gene and anonymous polymorphic sites in chromosome 17 should be conducted in CML.