Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) is characterized by the continuous proliferation and abnormal circulation of malignant hematopoietic progenitors. This may be related to the unresponsiveness of CML progenitors to beta1 integrin adhesion receptor-mediated inhibition of progenitor proliferation by the marrow microenvironment. In hematopoietic cell lines, the BCR-ABL oncogene product, p210(BCR-ABL), interacts with a variety of cytoskeletal elements important for normal integrin signaling. We studied the role of p210(BCR-ABL) in abnormal integrin function in CML by evaluating the effect of inhibition of BCR-ABL expression with antisense oligodeoxynucleotides (AS-ODNs) on integrin-mediated adhesion and proliferation inhibition of malignant primary progenitors from CML marrow. Preincubation of CML CD34(+)HLA-DR+ (DR+) cells with breakpoint-specific AS-ODNs significantly increased adhesion of CML progenitors to stroma and fibronectin (FN). Pretreatment with breakpoint-specific ODNs also resulted in significant inhibition of CML progenitor proliferation after ligand or antibody-mediated beta1 integrin engagement. Breakpoint-specific ODNs were significantly more effective in restoring CML progenitor adhesion and proliferation inhibition than control ODNs. BCR-ABL mRNA and p210(BCR-ABL) levels in CML CD34(+) cells were significantly reduced after incubation with breakpoint-specific AS-ODN. These studies indicate a role for BCR-ABL in abnormal circulation and defective integrin-dependent microenvironmental regulation of proliferation of CML hematopoietic progenitors.