Studies of acute leukemia with the 4;11 translocation have yielded conflicting results regarding the lineage of the cell of origin in this disease. To investigate this issue further, we have examined the state of immunoglobulin genes in tumor cells from two affected patients, immunophenotyped their leukemic cells using a number of monoclonal antibody reagents with specificities for lymphoid or myelomonocytic antigens, and examined the malignant cells by electron microscopy. DNA was extracted from leukemic bone marrow cells and hybridized with radiolabeled DNA fragment probes specific for the constant region of immunoglobulin heavy chain and kappa and lambda light chain genes. Autoradiographs revealed rearrangement of both allelic heavy chain genes, but a germline configuration of light chain genes in both cases. Surface marker analysis showed that blasts from both patients expressed HLA-DR and the myeloid antigens Leu-M1, 1C2, 2D1, and 4B3, but lacked common acute lymphocytic leukemia antigen or T antigens. Furthermore, they did not have sheep erythrocyte receptors nor did they express surface or cytoplasmic immunoglobulin or B cell precursor determinants. Electron microscopy analysis showed that blast cells from patient 1 exhibited numerous monoribosomes, polyribosomes, and isolated strands of rough endoplasmic reticulum in their cytoplasm. These ultrastructural features are characteristic for both common acute lymphocytic leukemia and pre-B-ALL cells, but not for T-ALL or acute myelogenous leukemia cells. Peroxidase was undetectable in cells from both patients. Our study suggests that this disorder represents a unique subtype of leukemia. The cell of origin may be an early B cell progenitor that shares certain surface antigens with myeloid cells or a stem cell with the potential for both lymphoid and myelomonocytic differentiation.