The common B-chronic lymphocytic leukemia (B-CLL) antigen (cCLLa) appears to be ideal for targeted immunotherapy in that it is the most prevalent and disease-restricted marker in B-CLL. To assess this potential, we developed four immunotoxins (ITs) of anti-cCLLa monoclonal antibody CLL2m (an IgG2a kappa), using ricin chain A (RTA) or its deglycosylated derivative (dgA), each conjugated to either the whole IgG molecule or its Fab' fragment. Each IT was tested in vitro for specificity and cytotoxic activity (assessed by protein synthesis inhibition [PSI] and by cell kill [CK] in the clonogenic assay) against B-CLL cells. RTA-based anti-CD5 ITs and enriched normal B and T lymphocytes were used as controls. Each IT exhibited antigen-specific, dose-dependent activity. Thus, whereas B-CLL cells exhibited dose- dependent PSI and CK (whether the B-CLL clone was CD5+ or CD5-), normal B (cCLLa-/CD5-) and T lymphocytes (cCLLa-/CD5+) remained unaffected. IT potency was independent of toxin glycosylation, but was slightly influenced by antibody valence; divalent ITs were twice as potent as monovalent ITs (IC50, 2.3 v 7.1 x 10(-11) mol/L; CK, 2.6- v 2.0-log reached with 524 v 1,072 IT molecules bound/cell, respectively). In the presence of ammonium chloride or Verapamil, IT-induced CK was enhanced 10- to 80-fold. These data suggest that the cCLLa is a promising target for IT-based immunotherapy of B-CLL in vivo and ex vivo.