The tie receptor tyrosine kinase mRNA was originally identified as an amplified product in reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction analysis of human K562 leukemia cell RNA. In situ hybridization analysis revealed that the corresponding mouse gene is expressed predominantly in endothelial cells. We have explored tie mRNA and protein expression in tumor cell lines. The 4.4 kb tie mRNA was expressed at high levels in five of five human megakaryoblastic leukemia cell lines studied and in two IL-3-dependent mouse myeloid leukemia cell lines, but not in 42 other leukemia cell lines representing various hematopoietic lineages. Increased expression of tie mRNA and protein was observed upon treatment of the megakaryoblastic leukemia cells with the tumor promoter 12-0-tetradecanoyl-phorbol-13-acetate (TPA), known to enhance megakaryoblastic markers. Among several cell lines from solid tumors, two fibrosarcomas, one rhabdomyosarcoma and one melanoma cell line were positive for tie mRNA. These results suggest that among hematopoietic lineages tie is predominantly expressed in cells with megakaryoblastic properties and that the tie tyrosine kinase is a receptor for a regulatory factor specific for megakaryoblasts, endothelial cells, and occasional tumor cell lines derived from mesenchymal tissues.