Little is known about the expression of bcl-2 protein in intermediate and high grade non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) and its clinical and prognostic significance. We performed immunohistochemical analysis of bcl-2 expression in tumoral tissue sections of 348 patients with high or intermediate grade NHL. These patients were uniformly treated with adriamycin, cyclophosphamide, vindesine, bleomycin, and prednisone (ACVBP) in the induction phase of the LNH87 protocol. Fifty eight cases were excluded due to inadequate staining. Of the 290 remaining patients, 131 (45%) disclosed homogeneous positivity (high bcl-2 expression) in virtually all tumor cells, whereas 65 (23%) were negative and 94 (32%) exhibited intermediate staining. High bcl-2 expression was more frequent in B-cell NHL (109 of 214, 51%) than in T- cell NHL (6 of 35, 17%) (P = .0004), and was heterogeneously distributed among the different histological subtypes. Further analysis was performed on the 151 patients with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (centroblastic and immunoblastic) to assess the clinical significance and potential prognostic value of bcl-2 expression in the most frequent and homogeneous immunohistological subgroup. High bcl-2 expression, found in 44% of these patients (67 of 151), was more frequently associated with III-IV stage disease (P = .002). Reduced disease-free survival (DFS) (P < .01) and overall survival (P < .05) were demonstrated in the patients with high bcl-2 expression. Indeed, the 3-year estimates of DFS and overall survival were 60% and 61%, respectively (high bcl-2 expression) versus 82% and 78%, respectively (negative/intermediate bcl-2 expression). A multivariate regression analysis confirmed the independent effect of bcl-2 protein expression on DFS. Thus bcl-2 protein expression, as demonstrated in routinely paraffin-embedded tissue, appears to be predictive of poor DFS, in agreement with the role of bcl-2 in chemotherapy-induced apoptosis. It might be considered as a new independent biologic prognostic parameter, which, especially in diffuse large B-cell NHL, could aid in the identification of patient risk groups.