Alpha-naphthyl acetate esterases (ANAE) were examined by cytochemical and isoelectric focusing (IEF) techniques in 48 cases of acute myeloid leukemia that were classified by conventional morphological criteria. Four main types of ANAE isoenzyme patterns were found by IEF, and comparisons with the expression of membrane receptors (Fc-IgG and C3b) and monocyte-specific antigens (UCHM1, UCHALF, and E11) suggest relationships between ANAE isoenzyme synthesis and distinct myeloid maturational stages. The results further indicate that the blast cells of acute myelomonocytic leukemia (AMML) may represent an immature variant of monocytic leukemia (AMoL) and that morphological examination alone is inadequate in the assessment of monocytic differentiation in acute myeloid leukemias. Inhibition studies of cytochemical ANAE activity with sodium fluoride (NaF) show that the presence of NaF- sensitive or NaF-resistant ANAE enzymes is often unrelated to the diagnostic category of acute leukemia. The results of this study are examined in relation to current concepts of myeloid differentiation, and the application of these findings to the subclassification of acute myeloid leukemias is discussed.