In this study we analysed the incidence and clinical impact of the persistence of host haemopoiesis (mixed chimaerism, MC) after allogeneic BMT in 35 consecutive patients with haematologic malignancies using a total CD4+ cell-depleted graft with an adjusted dose of CD8+ cells (1 × 108/kg). Chimaerism was assessed by PCR amplification of VNTRs in 30 evaluable patients: 19 non-CML and 11 CML cases which were also evaluated for the BCR-ABL transcript by RT-PCR. All but one had complete engraftment with a donor profile early post-BMT. At the end of the study period, 12 of 30 patients displayed MC (40%). The overall disease-free survival for MC patients was clearly unfavourable when compared to those who exhibited a donor profile (24.7% vs 100%, P = 0.005). However, we found that only two of five patients with MC in the non-CML group relapsed, whereas a clear correlation could be made between MC and relapse in CML (seven showed MC, preceding cytogenetic or haematological relapse in six of them, which displayed a prior BCR-ABL mRNA positivity). In addition, a quantitative-PCR approach enabled us to demonstrate that increasing amounts of MC are invariably associated with subsequent relapse, whereas a low stable level of host or complete donor haemopoiesis is consistent with clinical complete remission. Although these results suggest that the clinical impact of MC may depend on the underlying disease, it is compatible with the concept that the graft-versus-leukaemia effect against CML is mainly exerted by donor CD4+ lymphocytes. Elimination of this cellular subset may be responsible for the inability of the graft to prevent a progressive increase in the tumor cell burden.