Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)-associated non-Hodgkin's lymphomas (AIDS-NHL), a major source of morbidity and mortality among AIDS patients, are derived from B cells and can be classified into two main histologic categories, small noncleaved cell lymphoma (SNCCL) and diffuse large-cell lymphoma (DLCL). DLCL includes two histologic subsets, ie, large noncleaved cell lymphoma (LNCCL) and large cell- immunoblastic plasmacytoid lymphoma (LC-IBPL). Several studies have shown that AIDS-SNCCL is associated with the clonal accumulation of multiple genetic lesions, including Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection, activation of the c-MYC and RAS oncogenes, as well as inactivation of the p53 tumor suppressor gene at variable frequencies. On the contrary, the molecular pathogenesis of AIDS-DLCL is largely obscure, because no genetic lesion other than EBV infection has been specifically identified in this group. In this study, we have tested a panel of 40 AIDS-NHL for structural alterations of BCL-6, a putative proto-oncogene that is frequently altered in DLCL in the immunocompetent host. Our results show that rearrangements of BCL-6 are present in 20% of AIDS- DLCL (5 of 24), including 2 of 8 LNCCL and 3 of 16 LC-IBPL, but in no case of AIDS-SNCCL. BCL-6 rearrangements were detected both in the presence and in the absence of EBV infection of the tumor clone, but in no case were associated with activation of c-MYC or mutations of p53. These data identify a novel genetic lesion in AIDS-DLCL and corroborate the notion that lymphomagenesis in AIDS follows two distinct molecular pathways that are associated with the development of histologically distinct types of AIDS-NHL.