Proline-rich homeobox (Prh) is a novel human homeobox-containing gene recently isolated from the CD34+ cell line KG-1A, and whose expression appears mainly restricted to hematopoietic tissues. To define the pattern of Prh expression within the human hematopoietic system, we have analyzed its constitutive expression in purified cells obtained from normal hematopoietic tissues, its levels of transcription in a number of leukemia/lymphoma cell lines representing different lineages and stages of hematolymphopoietic differentiation, and its regulation during in vitro maturation of human leukemic cell lines. Prh transcripts were not detected in leukemic cells of T-lymphoid lineage, irrespective of their maturation stage, and in resting or activated normal T cells from peripheral blood and lymphoid tissues. In contrast, high levels of Prh expression were shown in cells representing early stages of B lymphoid maturation, being maintained up to the level of circulating and tissue mature B cells. Terminal B-cell differentiation appeared to be conversely associated with the deactivation of the gene, since preplasmacytic and plasmocytoma cell lines were found not to express Prh mRNA. Prh transcripts were also shown in human cell lines of early myelomonocytic, erythromegakaryocytic, and preosteoclast phenotypes. Prh expression was lost upon in vitro differentiation of leukemic cell lines into mature monocyte-macrophages and megakaryocytes, whereas it was maintained or upregulated after induction of maturation to granulocytes and osteoclasts. Accordingly, circulating normal monocytes did not display Prh mRNA, which was conversely detected at high levels in purified normal granulocytes. Our data, which show that the acquisition of the differentiated phenotype is associated to Prh downregulation in certain hematopoietic cells but not in others, also suggest that a dysregulated expression of this gene might contribute to the process of leukemogenesis within specific cell lineages.