Monoclonal antibodies (MoAbs) specific for autoantibody-associated cross-reactive idiotypes (CRIs) of Waldenstrom's IgM react frequently with the surface Ig (slg) expressed by leukemia cells of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Evaluation of the molecular basis for this cross-reactivity indicates that such CRIs are encoded by conserved antibody variable region genes (V genes) that have undergone little or no somatic hypermutation. We find that such anti-CRI MoAbs stain a subpopulation of cells within the mantle zones surrounding the germinal centers of normal human tonsil. In contrast, MoAbs specific for variable region subgroup determinants react with cells in both the mantle zones and germinal centers of secondary B-cell follicles. To test whether mantle zone B cells not reactive with existing anti-CRI MoAbs may express slg bearing as-yet-unrecognized CRIs present on Igs produced by neoplastic cells of some patients with Waldenstrom's macroglobulinemia or CLL, we immunized mice with purified Waldenstrom's IgM that have been characterized for their variable region subgroups using subgroup-specific antisera raised against synthetic peptides. The supernatants of hybridomas generated from the splenocytes of immunized mice were screened for their ability to stain a subpopulation of mantle zone lymphocytes in human tonsil. With this approach, two new anti-CRI MoAbs were identified, designated OAK1 and VOH3. OAK1 binds to a CRI present on a subset of kappa light chains of the VK1 subgroup. VOH3 recognizes a CRI determinant(s) present on a subset of antibody heavy chains of the VH3 subgroup. Flow cytometric analyses demonstrated that OAK1 specifically binds leukemia cells from 5 to 20 patients (25%) with kappa light chain expressing CLL. In addition, VOH3 reacted with the leukemia cells from 1 of 17 (6%) patients tested. The success of these methods demonstrates that the variable regions of the Igs produced by mantle zone B cells share idiotypic determinants with Igs expressed in B-cell CLL (B-CLL) and Waldenstrom's macroglobulinemia.