Eight reactive lymphatic tissues, 166 cases of non-Hodgkin lymphomas (NHL) and 11 cases of multiple myeloma were investigated for expression of the c-abl protein using the poly-clonal anti-abl antibody 4411 and an indirect peroxidase technique. In selected cases the results were compared to those obtained with a second polyclonal and 2 monoclonal anti-abl antibodies. In 7 cases, Northern blot analysis of abl-mRNA was performed in parallel. In reactive lymphatic tissues, cells positive for the 4411 antibody were confined to the B-cell areas, i.e., to the mantle zone and parts of the germinal center. In NHL, a positive staining of the cell membrane was predominantly detectable in lymphomas putatively originating in the germinal center or mantle zone (in particular in centrocytic NHL), independent of their proliferative activity. Clinically, 7 out of 8 abl-positive cases of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) had a more aggressive course of disease, whereas "progressive disease" occurred in only 7 out of 19 c-abl antigen-negative cases. When the clinical status of 78 patients with NHL and 11 patients with multiple myeloma was related to c-abl expression, c-abl-positivity was mostly confined to patients in advanced tumor stages [p less than 0.001 (NHL)].