We used the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to detect ALL1-AF4 rearrangements, the molecular hallmark of t(4;11) in a series of 46 pre- pre-B (CD19+, CD24+, CD10/CD20/cylgM/sIgM-) acute lymphoblastic leukemias (ALL). Eighteen patients (39%) exhibited fusion transcripts including 4 of 12 children and 14 of 34 adults. This genetic defect was associated with hyperleukocytosis (median leukocyte count 176 x 10(9)/L) and expression of myeloid-associated antigens (CDw65+). In contrast, only two patients from a group of 67 common (CD19/CD10+, cylgM/sIgM-) and pre-B ALLs (CD19/cylgM+, CD10 +/-, sIgM-) showed ALL1- AF4 mRNA. All PCR-positive cases showed multiple amplification products representing alternative splicing events. Moreover, reciprocal der (4)- derived AF4-ALL1 transcripts were observed in 65% of the cases analyzed. Eight of the 18 pre-pre-B ALL patients with an ALL1-AF4 recombination are currently in complete continuous remission for up to 54 months (median, 26 months). Twelve remission samples were available from seven cases, and all of them lacked evidence of minimal residual disease. Overall this study documents a similarly high incidence of ALL1-AF4 recombinations in children (infants excluded) and adults with pre-pre-B ALL and demonstrates the decline of the leukemic cell clone below the detection level of PCR in a remarkable proportion of patients under intense treatment protocols.