We have examined a population of patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) or myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) for loss of heterozygosity of polymorphic markers on chromosomes 5 and 7. The rationale for this study was the observation that the majority of patients with therapy- related leukemia (t-AML or t-MDS), resulting from cytotoxic treatment for prior malignancies, have loss of chromosome 5 and/or 7 or deletions involving the long arms of one or both of these chromosomes. This cytogenetic finding suggested that tumor-suppressor genes, important in the development of AML, may be located in these chromosomal regions. We analyzed a total of 60 patients, 43 with primary MDS/AML de novo and 17 with t-MDS/t-AML. Leukemia cells were evaluated for restriction fragment length polymorphisms (RFLPs). Leukemia cell genotypes were compared with lymphoblastoid cell genotypes from the same patients. Two cases of loss of heterozygosity were identified from chromosomes lacking visible deletions: one involving chromosome 5 in a patient with AML de novo who had a visible deletion of 5q at a later stage of the disease, and one involving chromosome 7 in a patient with t-AML. We conclude that allele loss from loci on chromosomes 5 and 7 in MDS/AML, when it occurs, usually results from major deletion or simple chromosome loss, rather than from mitotic recombination or chromosome loss with duplication of the remaining homologue.