The presence of meningeal involvement in children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) may have important prognostic and therapeutic implications. Conventional methods of diagnosing central nervous system (CNS) leukemia rely on the interpretation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) cell morphology, which may produce ambiguous results in the presence of minimal leukemic involvement. A methodology has been developed for immunophenotyping small numbers of CSF cells while preserving cell morphology. CSF samples from 33 children with CD10 (common ALL antigen [CALLA]) positive ALL were examined at initial presentation using both conventional morphology and this combined immunohistopathologic technique. Six (18%) of the samples contained lymphoblasts or cells considered morphologically suspicious for leukemic involvement. Nine additional samples (27% of the total) had normal CSF morphology, but contained increased numbers of CALLA positive cells. Twelve of the 33 samples were also examined for the simultaneous presence of nuclear terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase (TdT) and demonstrated increased numbers of cells positive for both TdT and CD10. These data suggest that a large proportion of children with ALL may have abnormalities of CSF cells at initial diagnosis consistent with the presence of occult leukemic involvement.