The cholecystokinin (CCK)-B/gastrin receptor binds two brain-gut hormones, CCK and gastrin, with high affinities. These peptides have a trophic effect on gastrointestinal cells expressing the receptor in vivo as well as in vitro. Recently, this receptor mRNA was reported to be expressed in immunocytes localized in the lamina propria of normal rat stomach mucosa. Here, we studied the receptor expression in human hematopoietic cells in order to determine whether they play a role in cell growth. The CCK-B/gastrin receptor mRNA was detectable in the polymorphonuclear (PMN) cells but not in the mononuclear cells of normal peripheral white blood cells by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction. The receptor transcript was, however, expressed in human leukemia cell lines (14 of 18 cell lines tested) derived from not only myeloid, but also T- and B-lymphoid lineages. The CCK-B/gastrin receptors on several leukemia cell lines were shown to be biologically active by demonstrating ligand-dependent cell proliferation in serum-deprived medium. Interestingly, a human CCK-B/gastrin receptor specific antagonist, YM022, but not its stereotype isoform, selectively inhibited the DNA synthesis of THP-1, MOLT-16, MOLT-14, and CCRF-CEM in the absence of exogenous peptide ligands. Further investigation revealed that these leukemia cell lines and normal PMN cells also expressed gastrin mRNA. These results suggest that growth of human leukemia cells is promoted by an autocrine mechanism through the CCK-B/gastrin receptors.