Autologous stem cell transplantation has become an important therapy in multiple myeloma (MM). To develop adequate autograft purging methods, it is necessary to determine whether antigens expressed on early hematopoietic progenitors exist on malignant cells. The Ig heavy chain produced by the MM cells shows evidence of prior somatic mutation without intraclonal diversity. As a result, this sequence can be used as a specific marker to detect all members of the malignant clone. The Ig heavy chain sequence expressed by the MM cells was obtained in five patients with advanced disease. Patient specific oligonucleotide primers were designed based on the complementarity determining regions (CDR) of each MM Ig sequence and used to amplify DNA by polymerase chain reaction for the detection of malignant cells. A highly purified collection of CD34+ cells was obtained after passage of the initial bone marrow cells through an immunoadsorption column and fluorescence- activated cell sorting. Despite an assay sensitivity of 1 tumor cell in 2,500 to 44,000 normal cells, none of the CD34+ samples showed product with the myeloma-specific CDR primers. Therefore, positive selection for cells bearing this antigen should yield a tumor-free autograft capable of providing hematopoietic recovery after myeloablative chemotherapy.