Several recurring chromosomal translocations involve the AML1 gene at 21q22 in myeloid leukemias resulting in fusion mRNAs and chimeric proteins between AML1 and a gene on the partner chromosome. AML1 corresponds to CBFA2, one of the DNA-binding subunits of the enhancer core binding factor CBF. Other CBF DNA-binding subunits are CBFA1 and CBFA3, also known as AML3 and AML2. AML1, AML2 and AML3 are each characterized by a conserved domain at the amino end, the runt domain, that is necessary for DNA-binding and protein dimerization, and by a transactivation domain at the carboxyl end. AML1 was first identified as the gene located at the breakpoint junction of the 8;21 translocation associated with acute myeloid leukemia. The t(8;21)(q22;q22) interrupts AML1 after the runt homology domain, and fuses the 5' part of AML1 to almost all of ETO, the partner gene on chromosome 8. AML1 is an activator of several myeloid promoters; however, the chimeric AML1/ETO is a strong repressor of some AML1-dependent promoters. AML1 is also involved in the t(3;21)(q26;q22), that occurs in myeloid leukemias primarily following treatment with topoisomerase II inhibitors. We have studied five patients with a 3;21 translocation. In all cases, AML1 is interrupted after the runt domain, and is translocated to chromosome band 3q26. As a result of the t(3;21), AML1 is consistently fused to two separate genes located at 3q26. The two genes are EAP, which codes for the abundant ribosomal protein L22, and MDS1, which encodes a small polypeptide of unknown function. In one of our patients, a third gene EVI1 is also involved. EAP is the closest to the breakpoint junction with AML1, and EVI1 is the furthest away. The fusion of EAP to AML1 is not in frame, and leads to a protein that is terminated shortly after the fusion junction by introduction of a stop codon. The fusion of AML1 to MDS1 is in frame, and adds 127 codons to the interrupted AML1. Thus, in the five cases that we studied, the 3;21 translocation results in expression of two coexisting chimeric mRNAs which contain the identical runt domain at the 5' region, but differ in the 3' region. In addition, the chimeric transcript AML1/MDS1/EVI1 has also been detected in cells from one patient with the 3;21 translocation as well as in one of our patients. Several genes necessary for myeloid lineage differentiation contain the target sequence for AML1 in their regulatory regions. One of them is the CSF1R gene. We have compared the normal AML1 to AML1/MDS1, AML1/EAP and AML1/MDS1/EVI1 as transcriptional regulators of the CSF1R promoter. Our results indicate that AML1 can activate the promoter, and that the chimeric proteins compete with the normal AML1 and repress expression from the CSF1R promoter. AML1/MDS1 and AML1/EAP affect cell growth and phenotype when expressed in rat fibroblasts. However, the pattern of tumor growth of cells expressing the different chimeric genes in nude mice is different. We show that when either fusion gene is expressed, the cells lose contact inhibition and form foci over the monolayer. In addition, cells expressing AML1/MDS1 grow larger tumors in nude mice, whereas cells expressing only AML1/EAP do not form tumors, and cells expressing both chimeric genes induce tumors of intermediate size. Thus, although both chimeric genes have similar effects in transactivation assays of the CSF1R promoter, they affect cell growth differently in culture and have opposite effects as tumor promoters in vivo. Because of the results obtained with cells expressing one or both genes, we conclude that MDS1 seems to have tumorigenic properties, but that AML1/EAP seems to repress the oncogenic property of AML1/MDS1.