Previous studies have shown that the BCL-2 protooncogene encodes a mitochondrial protein that promotes cell survival by blocking programmed cell death. Bcl-2 protein has been detected in normal immature myeloid cells and in acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cells. To assess its functional role in normal and leukemic hematopoiesis, we performed serum-free cultures of CD34+ normal marrow cells, of bcl-2- positive myeloid lines, and of AML cells in the presence of bcl-2 sense, nonsense, and antisense phosphorothioate oligodeoxynucleotides. In all antisense-treated cultures, we observed (1) an inhibition of bcl- 2 protein expression by day 4 to 6 of culture; (2) a decrease in cell survival duration; and (3) a decrease in the number of clonogenic cells present in the culture. Moreover, exposure to chemotherapeutic drugs resulted in more effective killing of AML cells in the presence of antisense oligomers. We conclude that bcl-2 protein is necessary for the survival of myeloid cells in culture, and that it may be implicated in the resistance of AML cells to chemotherapy.