The bcr-abl fusion gene is the molecular counterpart of the Philadelphia chromosome (Ph1) and is directly involved in the pathogenesis of Ph1+ leukemia. Inhibition of bcr-abl gene expression may have profound effects on the cell biology of Ph1+ cells, as recent experiments with antisense oligonucleotides have shown. In this study we have designed and synthesized a unique ribozyme that is directed against bcr-abl mRNA. The ribozyme cleaved bcr-abl mRNA in a cell-free in vitro system. A DNA-RNA hybrid ribozyme was then incorporated into a liposome vector and transfected into EM-2 cells, a cell line derived from a patient with blast crisis of chronic myelogenous leukemia. The ribozyme decreased levels of detectable bcr-abl mRNA in these cells, inhibited expression of the bcr-abl gene product, p210bcr-abl, and inhibited cell growth. This anti-bcr-abl ribozyme may be a useful tool to study the cell biology of Ph1+ leukemia and may ultimately have therapeutic potential in treating patients with Ph1 leukemias.