Structural alterations of the 5′ noncoding region of the BCL-6 gene have been found in 40% of diffuse large cell lymphoma (DLCL) and 5% to 10% of follicular lymphomas (FL), suggesting that deregulated BCL-6 expression may play a role in lymphomagenesis. Nucleotide sequencing of BCL-6 cDNA predicted a protein containing six zinc-finger domains, suggesting that it may function as a transcription factor. Using antisera raised against N- and C-terminal BCL-6 synthetic oligopeptides in immunoprecipitation, immunoblot, and immunocytochemical assays, this study identifies the BCL-6 gene product as a 95-kD nuclear protein. Western blot analysis of human tumor cell lines representative of various hematopoietic lineages/stages of differentiation showed that the BCL-6 protein is predominantly expressed in the B-cell lineage where it was found in mature B cells. Immunohistochemical analysis of normal human lymphoid tissues indicated that BCL-6 expression is topographically restricted to germinal centers including all centroblasts and centrocytes. The BCL-6 protein was also detectable in inter- and intra-follicular CD4+ T cells, but not in other follicular components including mantle-zone B cells, plasma cells, dendritic cells, and macrophages. Immunohistochemical analysis of DLCL and FL biopsy samples showed that the BCL-6 protein is detectable in these tumors independent of the presence of BCL-6 gene rearrangements. These results indicate that the expression of the BCL-6 gene is specifically regulated during B-cell differentiation and suggest a role for BCL-6 in germinal center development or function. Because DLCL derive from germinal-center B cells, deregulated BCL-6 expression may contribute to lymphomagenesis by preventing postgerminal center differentiation.