Id proteins are helix-loop-helix (HLH) transcriptional factors that lack the basic DNA binding domain. The Id proteins have been reported generally to function as inhibitors of cell differentiation, and their gene expression is often downregulated during cell differentiation. We examined the expression of human Id mRNAs by Northern hybridization in 11 human myeloid cell lines, several myeloid cell lines induced to differentiate, fresh myeloid leukemia samples, and normal human myeloid cells. Id2 mRNA was expressed in myelomonoblastic and monoblastic leukemic cells (PLB-985, THP-1, and U-937) but was weakly expressed in myeloblastic leukemic cells (KG-1 and HL-60). Id2 mRNA levels markedly increased with induction of differentiation of myeloid blasts (HL-60, PLB-985, THP-1, and U-937) toward either granulocytes or macrophages. Examination of fresh acute myeloid leukemic samples from 22 individuals also showed prominent Id2 mRNA expression in those samples having more differentiated blasts. Using the French-American-British classification, only 2 of 8 M0/M1 samples expressed Id2 mRNA; however, 10 of 13 M2/M3/M4 samples expressed it. In normal human myeloid cells, Id2 mRNA was expressed in cultured macrophages from bone marrow and in mature granulocytes and monocytes from peripheral blood. The half-life of Id2 mRNA was short (1 hour), and its expression was inducible by cessation of protein synthesis. Id3 mRNA was moderately expressed in monoblastic cell lines (THP-1 and U-937), and levels decreased with their differentiation. Almost no Id3 expression was detectable in either other myeloid leukemia lines, fresh leukemic samples, or normal human myeloid cells by Northern analyses. Id1 mRNA was not detected by polymerase chain reaction in either leukemic or normal myeloid cells except in K562 myeloid/erythroid cells. These results showed that Id2 mRNA was constitutively expressed in more mature myeloid blast cells and level markedly increased with terminal myeloid differentiation, suggesting that Id2 protein may inhibit an HLH transcriptional complex that normally represses myeloid differentiation.