Patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and a complex aberrant karyotype have a poor outcome despite intensive antileukemic treatment. The aim of this study was to analyze in detail the genetic abnormalities in this subgroup of AML. Therefore, 125 AML cases with complex aberrant karyotype detected by G-banding were examined in addition with 24-color FISH and FISH with locus-specific probes for EGR1 (5q31), D7S522 (7q31), and TP53 (17p13), given that these regions are known to be commonly deleted in AML with a complex aberrant karyotype. The number of chromosome abnormalities per case varied from 3 to 30 (median 10). A gain of a whole chromosome was observed 131 times, with +8 (n = 30), +10 (n = 11), and +22 (n = 10) being the most frequent trisomies. A loss of a whole chromosome occurred 128 times. The chromosomes most often lost were 7 (n = 25), 18 (n = 24), and 17 (n = 17). Structural aberrations, leading to a gain or loss of chromosomal material, were detected 104 times and 433 times, respectively. Aberrations including only two chromosomes that seemed to be balanced were found only 19 times. Losses resulting from structural abnormalities most frequently involved 5q (n = 100), 17p (n = 47), and 12p (n = 29), whereas gains of 11q (n = 21), 21q (n = 19), and 8q (n = 11) were observed. Using locus-specific probes, deletions of the EGR1 locus (5q31), of 7q31, and the TP53 gene were observed in 103 (82%), 57 (46%), and 66 (53%) cases, respectively. In conclusion, in AML with a complex aberrant karyotype, loss of chromosomal material was observed much more often than gain. Unbalanced rearrangements leading to loss of chromosomal material are much more frequent than loss of whole chromosomes. These data suggest that in AML with a complex aberrant karyotype, loss of tumor-suppressor genes is a more important mechanism of leukemogenesis than activation of oncogenes, and that gene-dosage effects may play a significant role in the pathogenesis of this AML subtype. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.