Colony-forming cells in ten cases of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) were studied with six cytotoxic monoclonal antibodies that react with antigens expressed at discrete stages of differentiation of normal and leukemic hematopoietic cells. The reactivity of the whole leukemic population was measured by indirect immunofluorescence, and the reactivity of the colony-forming cells was established by complement- mediated cytotoxicity and by fluorescence activated cell sorting. Comparison of the immunofluorescent reactivity with cytotoxicity and cell sorting showed that colony-forming cells were found within a fraction of the leukemic subpopulations that expresses these antigens. This finding implies that immunofluorescence reactivity of the total leukemic population does not necessarily predict the phenotype of the clonogenic cells. When the surface phenotype of the clonogenic leukemic cells was compared to that previously established for normal marrow hemopoietic clonogenic cells, several patterns were seen: (1) in four of ten cases, the clonogenic cells expressed a phenotype like that of relatively mature normal granulocyte-macrophage colony-forming cells (late CFU-GM) or, (2) in two cases, a phenotype similar to the less mature colony-forming cells (early CFU-GM or CFU-GEMM), and (3) in four cases, a composite phenotype of early and late CFU-GM. Thus, the level of impairment of differentiation in AML may vary from case to case. In those cases phenotypically similar to the late CFU-GM, it may be possible to separate leukemic clonogenic cells from less mature normal clonogenic cells using monoclonal antibodies selectively cytotoxic for the late CFU-GM.