We have previously demonstrated that malignant hematopoietic colony- forming units (CFUs) may be purged from normal CFU by exposure to c-myb antisense oligodeoxynucleotides (oligomers). This novel strategy appeared particularly promising for patients with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) in blast crisis, since in some cases complete elimination of bcr-abl-expressing cells was accomplished. We have examined 11 additional patients, including seven in chronic phase, in order to extend these initial observations. We sought in particular to determine if elimination of bcr-abl-expressing clones was a usual event. Exposure of CML cells to c-myb antisense oligomers resulted in inhibition of CFU-granulocyte, macrophage (CFU-GM)-derived colony formation in eight of 11 (73%) cases evaluated. Inhibition was antisense sequence-specific, dose-dependent, ranged between 58% and 93%, and was statistically significant (P less than or equal to .03) in seven of the eight cases. In two cases, CFU-granulocyte, erythrocyte, monocyte, megakaryocyte (CFU-GEMM)-derived colony formation was also examined and found to be inhibited by the c-myb antisense oligomers in a sequence-specific manner. To determine whether CML CFU had been reduced or eliminated after exposure to the antisense oligomers, we examined cells in the residual colonies for bcr-abl mRNA expression using a reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction detection technique (RT-PCR). Eight cases were evaluated and in each case where antisense myb inhibited growth, bcr-abl expression as detected by RT- PCR was either greatly decreased or nondetectable. No residual leukemic CFU were demonstrable on replating of treated cells. These results suggest that c-myb antisense oligomers substantially inhibit the growth and survival of CML CFU in both chronic and blast phase of disease. They may therefore prove useful for both ex vivo and in vivo treatment of CML.