The relationship between the level of retinoblastoma protein (RB) expression and the survival of 113 newly diagnosed acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) patients was studied. Western blotting was used to determine the level of RB protein present in peripheral blood leukemia cells and results were confirmed in 26 patients by immunohistochemistry. The leukemic cells from 22/113 AML patients (19%) contained RB protein at levels that were equal to or less than the level of RB observed in the mononuclear cell fraction of peripheral blood from normal individuals (Low RB). Levels of RB greater than that of normal blood (Elevated RB) were seen in 91 patients (81%). The median survival of patients with low RB was significantly shorter than that seen in patients with elevated RB, 12 weeks versus 40 weeks (P = .02). Remission induction frequency was 36% in low RB patients compared with 68% in AML patients with elevated RB (P = .01). Multivariate analysis showed that low RB protein level was an independent prognostic factor predictive or poor survival after allowing for other known prognostic factors. These data suggest that a low level of the RB protein at the time of diagnosis is associated with shortened survival in AML patients because of inferior response to conventional therapy. Monitoring of the RB level could identify a subgroup of AML patients with an extremely poor prognosis when treated with chemotherapy alone, who would be eligible for alternative therapeutic strategies.