A human myeloid leukemia cell line, KBM-7, was developed from a patient in the blastic phase of chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). We characterized its morphology, immunophenotype, cytogenetics, and proliferative capacity. Developed in the absence of exogenous lymphokines, KBM-7 in vitro cloning capacity actually decreased when colony-stimulating factors were added. The cells had an aberrant immature myeloid phenotype, a doubling time of 22 h in suspension cultures and a high cloning efficiency in semisolid system (24 +/- 3)%. Early passages contained one near-haploid (predominant) and one hyperdiploid stem line. Gradually the hyperdiploid stem line became predominant, reaching an average of 49 chromosomes per cell. Cells from passage 89 had two Philadelphia chromosomes [t(9;22)(q34;q11)] and lacked normal copies of chromosomes 9 and 22. Detailed molecular characterization of the breakpoint in the t(9;22)(q34;q11) revealed that KBM-7 had the BCR 2/ABL II splice junction. The cells had high protein kinase (p210BCR-ABL) activity and carried two identified variants of an ABL-BCR message. There was no evidence that normal BCR or c-ABL messages were expressed, assessed with the reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction. When KBM-7 cells were heterotransplanted into nude mice without immunosuppressive pretreatment, one of three mice injected with 1 x 10(7) cells and all mice injected with 1 x 10(8) cells developed slowly growing granulocytic sarcomas within 6-8 weeks. These tumors were locally invasive but did not metastasize. We conclude that the KBM-7 cell line will be of value for investigating molecular events underlying neoplastic transformation in CML, in particular for studying the effects of BCR-ABL and ABL-BCR on the proliferation of CML cells in the absence of normal BCR and c-ABL messages.