Glutathione (GSH) content may be the major determinant of a cell's sensitivity to cytotoxic alkylating agents. In the present study, the GSH concentration was determined in lymphocytes isolated from the blood of normal subjects and patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Comparable levels were found in both types of cells. Incubation for 20 hours led to a decrease in GSH to 51% of baseline values in CLL B cells. Under the same conditions, normal B- or T-lymphocyte GSH content remained constant. GSH depletion was shown to be a characteristic of the B-CLL B lymphocyte. It was not found in the T cells of patients with B-CLL or in cells from patients with T-CLL. Chlorambucil (CLB) contributes to the decrease in GSH in B-CLL lymphocytes; after incubation with the drug, lower levels of GSH were found than in the normal B or T lymphocytes, B-CLL T cells, or T-CLL (CD4 or CD8) cells. GSH depletion of CLL B lymphocytes may be related to the greater therapeutic efficacy of CLB in B-CLL than in T-CLL.