One hundred nineteen sera from patients with various lymphoproliferative diseases and normal sera were tested by a solid- phase radioimmunoassay (RIA) for their content in IgE-binding factor (IgE-BF), a soluble glycoprotein binding to IgE and derived from low- affinity IgE receptors (Fc epsilon R). Fc epsilon R, recently identified as CD23, are known to be expressed on the surface of B cells at the intermediate stage of differentiation. The results indicate that in all cases of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) tested (n = 40), IgE- BF levels (45 to 8,656 U/mL) were 3-fold to 500-fold higher than in 24 controls (15.5 +/- 2 U/mL). With a few exceptions, serum IgE-BF levels could differentiate patients with CLL from those with other leukemias or lymphomas. In vitro studies indicated that B lymphocytes isolated from CLL patients produced 8 to 50 times more IgE-BF than did normal B cells (P less than 0.001). IgE-BF level was correlated with the Rai stage of the disease (P = 0.002) and the lymphocyte count (P = 0.041). IgE-BF was purified to homogeneity from one CLL serum sample by a combination of affinity chromatography and reverse-phase high- performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). this IgE-BF proved identical to IgE-BF isolated from the culture supernatant of RPMI 8866 cells, a B lymphoblastoid cell line bearing Fc epsilon R and secreting IgE-BF. Indeed, the two molecules had the same mol wt (25 to 27 kd), the same isoelectric point, and the same tryptic map. We suggest that determination of serum IgE-BF might prove useful for clinical monitoring of CLL.