Abstract Oncogene abnormalities are thought to have a central role in some human malignant disorders, particularly Burkitt leukaemia/ lymphoma and chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML). However, the extent to which specific oncogene changes determine the clinical features of these disorders is unknown. This question was studied in two groups of patients with CML negative for the Philadelphia (Ph) chromosome; one group showed clinical features typical of Ph-positive CML and the other group lacked such features. Molecular findings were compared with those of Ph-positive CML. In all ten patients there was evidence for rearrangement of the bcr (breakpoint cluster region) gene. In the four cases studied the c- abl proto-oncogene was translocated to chromosome 22 and in five cases there was transcription of a chimeric bcr-abl mRNA. Thus, the molecular abnormality is the same in both groups of Ph-negative CML and identical to that in Ph-positive CML. Factors other than the bcr/c -abl rearrangement must underlie the clinical heterogeneity of CML.