We studied 53 patients with B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia (B-CLL) and found mutations of the p53 gene in 15%. Patients with p53 gene mutations were found to have an aggressive form of B-CLL disease characterized by advanced Rai stage, rapid lymphocyte doubling time (LDT), and resistance to chemotherapy. While 27 of 29 treated patients (93%) without p53 mutations achieved a partial remission, only one of seven treated patients (14%) with p53 mutations achieved a partial remission (P = .00009). Adjusting for prognostic factors (age, sex, race, and Rai stage), patients with p53 gene mutations had a 13-fold greater risk of death than patients without p53 mutations (P = .013). In addition to examining the clinical relevance of p53 gene mutations in B-CLL, we investigated the possible role of p53 gene regulation in the expression of the multidrug resistance genes MDR1 and MDR3. We quantitated MDR1 and MDR3 mRNA expression by reverse transcription- polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). Expression of both the MDR1 and MDR3 genes was independent of p53 gene mutation or prior drug treatment, and did not predict for clinical response. Our findings indicate that p53 gene mutations in B-CLL are associated with a poor clinical outcome and may be a prognostic indicator for drug resistance.