The non-Hodgkin's lymphomas (NHL) are a diverse group of human lymphoid neoplasms that have long presented pathologists with formidable diagnostic challenges. These tumors of the immune system are thought to represent neoplastic transformations of most of the recognized stages in T and B lymphocyte ontogeny. Lymphoma cells, however, often simulate their normal lymphocytic counterparts both morphologically and cell surface phenotypically, creating difficulties in discriminating normal from neoplastic lymphocytes. We have used heteroantisera to the human malignancy-associated nucleolar antigen (HMNA) to prospectively evaluate its efficacy in identifying the morphologically neoplastic cells in NHL lesions. In 65 cases of T and B cell histopathologic types of NHL, the antisera reacted with nucleoli in the morphologically and cytogenetically neoplastic lymphoma cells, but not with normal- appearing lymphoid and other cell types present in the lesions. Control specimens from normal and hyperplastic lymphoid tissue also failed to react with anti-HMNA antibodies. Normal activated lymphoid cells in vitro and growth-factor-dependent normal lymphoid cell lines also failed to express the nucleolar antigen(s). These data suggest that the HMNA is a valuable tumor cell marker for neoplastic human lymphoid cell populations and can be used with other types of cell markers for a better definition of the neoplastic cells in NHL.