We have previously shown that the number of glucocorticoid receptors (GR) per cell in malignant lymphoblasts from children with newly diagnosed pre-B- and early pre-B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) has a positive correlation with the probability of successful remission induction (Quddus et al, Cancer Res, 45:6482, 1985). We report now on the long-term outcome for these patients treated on a single protocol with 3 different treatment arms, all of which included glucocorticoid pulses during maintenance therapy. GR were quantitated in leukemic cells from 546 children with ALL at the time of diagnosis. Immunophenotyping studies were performed on all specimens. Prior studies showed that in pre-B- and early pre-B-cell ALL, successful remission induction was associated with a median GR number of 9,900 sites/cell, whereas induction failure was associated with a median receptor number of 4,800 sites/cell. Long-term follow-up of these patients shows an association between higher GR number and improved prognosis. The 5-year event-free survival of 61.0% (SE 2.8%) for patients whose leukemic cells had greater than 8,000 receptors/cell and 47.3% (SE 3.3%) for those with less than 8,000 receptors/cell is significantly different (P < .001). This difference remains significant when adjusted multivariately for blast immunophenotype and clinical risk factors (P < .001) or for treatment type (P < .001). We conclude that GR number greater than 8,000 sites/leukemic cell is a favorable prognostic marker for children with acute lymphocytic leukemia. This finding offers deeper insights into molecular mechanisms of anti- leukemia therapy and suggests that manipulation of steroid receptor number might augment the antitumor response, thus opening new avenues for basic and clinical research.