The purpose of this study was to examine the expression and structure of CD22 in B cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia (BCP-ALL), acute myeloid leukemia (AML), and T cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL). By using immunofluorescence microscopy and flow cytometry we observed that CD22 is expressed not only in the cytoplasm (as previously reported) but also on the cell surface of virtually all (15/16) BCP-ALL examined. CD22 that was biosynthetically labeled with 35S-cysteine and immunoprecipitated from the uncommon cytoplasmic CD22- positive/surface CD22-negative BCP-ALL cells was analyzed by single- dimension sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE). Our results indicated that the cytoplasmic form of CD22 comigrated with 125I/lactoperoxidase-labeled surface CD22. Therefore, cytoplasmic CD22 is probably a pool of fully processed glycoprotein. We also observed unusual cases of AML (approximately 20%) that expressed cytoplasmic CD22 based on immunofluorescent staining; however, biosynthetic labeling and immunoprecipitation revealed an apparently cross-reactive protein(s) of approximately 250 to 300 kd in AML cells. No T-ALL cell lines examined expressed either cytoplasmic or surface CD22. Thus, cytoplasmic and surface expression of bona fide CD22 appears restricted to B cells, which suggests that this molecule subserves a function unique to B cells.