p16 gene deletions are present in about 70% of primary paediatric T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (T-ALL) and 20% of common/precursor B-cell ALL cases. It is not clear what the impact of the frequent p16 deletions is within the subgroup of T-lineage ALL. We studied the relationship between p16/p19ARF deletions, using fluorescence in situ hybridization, and in vitro drug resistance and prognosis in childhood T-ALL at diagnosis. The cellular drug resistance was measured with the methyl thiazol tetrazoliumbromide assay using a panel of drugs and the thymidylate synthase inhibition assay for methotrexate. There was a complete overlap of individual LC50 values of p16 gene homozygously deleted and p16 germ-line cases for most of the nine classes of drugs tested. The only difference was for dexamethasone: the p16-deleted group was more sensitive than the germ-line p16 group (P = 0·030). The homozygously deleted p16 T-ALL patients (n = 34) treated with the modern multiagent chemotherapy schemes of the Dutch Childhood Leukaemia Study Group ALL-VII/-VIII or Co-operative ALL-92/-97 protocols have a significantly lower 5-year disease-free survival (DFS) than germ-line p16 T-ALL (n = 25) (65·1 ± 9·1% vs. 95·5 ± 4·4%, Plog rank= 0·021). Hence, this study identifies a subpopulation of primary childhood T-ALL that appears to have an extremely high DFS. However, the observed differences in outcome do not seem to be related to intrinsic resistance for the tested drugs.