Patients with acute leukemia are at increased risk for thrombotic and hemorrhagic complications, particularly those patients with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) undergoing induction chemotherapy. These serious complications have been attributed by some authors to the release of tissue factor (TF) procoagulant activity (PCA), particularly during cytotoxic chemotherapy. In previous studies of normal peripheral blood cells, only cells of the monocyte lineage have been found to express TF PCA. Therefore, several questions remain regarding the origin and characterization of the PCA in malignant leukemic cells, particularly those thought to be derived from granulocyte progenitor cells. We utilized a full-length cDNA probe, several monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) and a sensitive one-stage PCA assay to study the expression of TF in the human leukemia cell line, HL-60, in human peripheral blood monocytes/macrophages (Mo/Mo) and in highly purified populations of human polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMN). In the HL-60 cells we detected low but significant levels of TF mRNA and TF antigen (TF:Ag). In unstimulated cells, coordinate increased levels of TF mRNA, TF:Ag and TF PCA expression were noted following phorbol-ester-induced macrophage differentiation of the cells, but a decreased level of TF mRNA with no change in the basal level of TF:Ag expression occurred following retinoic acid-induced granulocyte differentiation of this cell line. Long-term cultures of stimulated mature Mo/Mo demonstrated initial coordinate expression of TF mRNA, TF:Ag and TF PCA, but TF:Ag expression persisted even after 7 days (when TF PCA was undetectable). No TF PCA, TF:Ag or TF mRNA was demonstrated in highly purified populations of human PMN, regardless of culture conditions. Discordant expression of TF mRNA, TF:Ag and TF PCA in HL-60 cells suggests the possibility of novel, post-synthetic mechanisms for the regulation of TF PCA expression, which might be dependent on the phenotypic differentiation level of the cell. Such mechanisms (yet to be defined) might account for the ability of some leukemic cells, which frequently express characteristics of more than one cell line (e.g. monocytes and granulocytes), to express a TF gene product capable of activating blood coagulation.