A major unresolved question for 11q23 translocations involving MLL is the chromosomal mechanism(s) leading to these translocations. We have mapped breakpoints within the 8.3-kb BamHI breakpoint cluster region in 31 patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and acute myeloid leukemia (AML) de novo and in 8 t-AML patients. In 23 of 31 leukemia de novo patients, MLL breakpoints mapped to the centromeric half (4.57 kb) of the breakpoint cluster region, whereas those in eight de novo patients mapped to the telomeric half (3.87 kb). In contrast, only two t-AML breakpoints mapped in the centromeric half, whereas six mapped in the telomeric half. The difference in distribution of the leukemia de novo breakpoints is statistically significant (P = .02). A similar difference in distribution of breakpoints between de novo patients and t-AML patients has been reported by others. We identified a low- or weak-affinity scaffold attachment region (SAR) mapping just centromeric to the breakpoint cluster region, and a high-affinity SAR mapping within the telomeric half of the breakpoint cluster region. Using high stringency criteria to define in vitro vertebrate topoisomerase II (topo II) consensus sites, one topo II site mapped adjacent to the telomeric SAR, whereas six mapped within the SAR. Therefore, 74% of leukemia de novo and 25% of t-AML breakpoints map to the centromeric half of the breakpoint cluster region map between the two SARs; in contrast, 26% of the leukemia de novo and 75% of the t-AML patient breakpoints map to the telomeric half of the breakpoint cluster region that contains both the telomeric SAR and the topo II sites. Thus, the chromatin structure of the MLL breakpoint cluster region may be important in determining the distribution of the breakpoints. The data suggest that the mechanism(s) leading to translocations may differ in leukemia de novo and in t-AML.