Anaplastic large-cell lymphoma (ALCL) represents a morphologically distinct type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) characterized phenotypically by the expression of the CD30 antigen, a new member of the nerve growth factor gene family. The lymphoid origin of ALCL has been documented using immunohistochemical and molecular genetic analyses. However, very little is known so far regarding the precise pathogenetic mechanisms involved in its development and progression. Therefore, we investigated bcl-2, p53, and retinoblastoma gene (Rb) expression immunohistochemically; the occurrence of bcl-2, c-myc, and Rb gene rearrangements using Southern blotting; and the presence of ras and p53 gene somatic mutations by single-strand conformation polymorphism assay in a panel of 18 well-characterized ALCLs. In addition, the presence of Epstein-Barr (EBV) and human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I (HTLV-I) genomes were investigated using polymerase chain reaction. We identified abnormal c-myc gene products in 6 of 18 cases (33%) of ALCL. On the other hand, the bcl-2 and Rb genes were not rearranged and K-, N-, and H-ras gene somatic mutations were not found. Significant levels of p53 protein expression were found in more than 60% of ALCLs, but only a single ALCL carried a p53 gene mutation (exon 5). Only 3 ALCL cases, all occurring in human immunodeficiency virus-infected patients, were positive for EBV genomes. On the other hand, contrary to previous findings, no HTLV-I products could be identified. Despite the fact that the c-myc proto- oncogene appears to be frequently altered in ALCL, no pathognomonic abnormality could be identified and therefore additional studies and new strategies should be designed to identify the pathogenetic mechanisms involved in the development of ALCL.