The human homologue of the mouse double minute 2 (MDM-2) gene codes for a cellular protein that forms a complex with the mutant and wild-type p53 protein and modulates its trans-activation activity. Overexpression of the MDM-2 gene in cells increases their tumorigenic potential and overcomes the growth-suppressive activity of p53. Previous reports have shown that the MDM-2 gene is amplified in approximately one third of human sarcomas. To examine the role of MDM-2 in leukemia, we analyzed MDM-2 gene amplification and mRNA expression in various types of leukemias. We did not detect gene amplification in any of the 48 cases of leukemia that we examined. In contrast, we observed significant MDM- 2 mRNA overexpression in 34 of 64 cases (53%). The level of mRNA overexpression in some cases of leukemias was comparable to that observed in some cases of sarcomas, which demonstrate more than 50-fold MDM-2 gene amplification. Furthermore, we divided these cases into different prognostic groups according to their karyotypic abnormalities. MDM-2 overexpression seemed to be associated with unfavorable chromosomal abnormalities. These findings suggest that the expression of the MDM-2 gene is altered in a significant fraction of human leukemias and MDM-2 may play a significant role in leukemogenesis. In addition, these results suggest that mechanisms other than gene amplification may play a significant role in deregulating the MDM-2 expression.