Although translocations of the BCL2 gene are frequent in B-cell non- Hodgkin's lymphomas (B-NHL) the incidence, nature, and prognostic significance of similar translocations in the phenotypically related chronic leukemias of mature B cells are unknown. Therefore, we examined 170 cases of B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia (B-CLL), 7 cases of B- cell prolymphocytic leukemia (B-PLL), 25 cases of hairy cell leukemia (HCL) and 22 cases of splenic lymphoma with villous lymphocytes (SLVL) with defined cytogenetic abnormalities by DNA blot using both 5′ and 3′ BCL2 probes to search for rearrangement of the BCL2 locus. Translocation t(14;18) (q32.3;q21.3) was detected cytogenetically in 3 cases of B-CLL. All had breakpoints in the 3′ region of BCL2, mapping between the major breakpoint region (MBR) and the minor cluster region (mcr), the breakpoint clusters commonly detected in B-NHL. In 2 of the 3 cases, the breakpoint within BCL2 was mapped to a 1.0-kb EcoRI- HindIII fragment indicating a clustering of breakpoints. Two cases of B- CLL had cytogenetically detectable t(2;18)(p11;q21.3) or t(18;22)(q21.3;q11). Both had rearranged the 5′ region of the BCL2 gene to the corresponding lg light-chain gene. Molecular cloning of the t(18;22)(q21.3;q11) showed that the translocation disrupted the BCL2 promoter region and the first untranslated BCL2 exon. Nevertheless, high levels of BCL2 protein were seen in this case. Only 2 other cases in whom cytogenetic analysis was not successful showed rearrangement of the 5′ region of BCL2, an overall incidence of 2.3%. No cases of B-PLL, HCL, or SLVL showed either 5′ or 3′ BCL2 rearrangement. These data confirm the cytogenetic observations that translocations involving the BCL2 locus in all forms of leukemia of mature B cells are rare, and limited to a minor subset of B-CLL. BCL2 translocations in B-CLL involve hot spots of recombination of both the 5′ and 3′ regions of the BCL2 gene, which are distinct from those commonly seen in B-NHL, suggesting distinct pathogenic mechanisms.