A recently described putative tumor suppressor gene, the cyclin-dependent kinase 4 inhibitor (p16), has been shown to be altered by deletions and/or point mutations in various human cancers. To assess the incidence and clinico-biologic correlations of p16 homozygous deletion in hemopoietic tumors, we studied a panel of 244 DNA samples representative of distinct acute (99 cases) and chronic (57 cases) leukemia subtypes, myelodysplastic (22 cases) and myeloproliferative (15 cases) syndromes, and lymphomas (51 cases). A 361-bp probe complementary to the p16 exon 2 gene sequences was generated by polymerase chain reaction and used in Southern blot hybridization against these tumor DNAs. Homozygous deletions of p16 (p16-/-) were detected in 10 of 58 (17%) cases of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) of either B or T lineage and in no other tumors. Single-strand conformation polymorphism analysis of p16 exons 1 and 2 was also performed in 40 of the 58 ALL cases and in 16 lymphomas. In no cases were point mutations detected. The comparison of clinical features at presentation in p16-/- and in p16 germline ALL cases showed a greater leukemic cell mass (P = .001) and higher white blood cell counts (P = .01) in the former group. Two ALL cases in which diagnostic and relapse DNA samples were available showed p16-/- in both specimens. We conclude that homozygous p16 gene deletions characterize a subset of ALL with features of aggressive disease.