The Bcl-2 protein is capable of preventing apoptosis, and in vitro evidence suggests a role in drug resistance. It is expressed and the gene is rearranged in a proportion of cases of large-cell non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL), but the clinical significance of these findings is controversial. The purpose of this study was to determine the influence of both Bcl-2 expression and major breakpoint region (MBR) bcl-2 rearrangement in a large cohort of prospectively accrued patients with intermediate-grade B-cell NHL treated in a standardized manner. All patients with Working Formulation F, G, or H NHL treated with cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, vincristine, and prednisone (CHOP) chemotherapy in British National Lymphoma investigation studies between July 1974 and April 1992 were considered for this study if the appropriate paraffin blocks were available. Paraffin sections from the diagnostic specimen were analyzed for evidence of MBR rearrangement using a polymerase chain reaction-based method, and for Bcl-2 expression using immunohistochemistry. Failure to achieve complete remission (CR), relapse, death from NHL, and deaths from all causes were used as end points to measure CR rate, actuarial relapse rate, actuarial survival from NHL, and actuarial overall survival. One hundred sixty-one suitable patients were identified and tested for the bcl-2 MBR translocation, with 27 (17%) found to be positive; 153 of these patients were tested with immunocytochemistry, and 84 (55%) showed evidence of Bcl-2 expression. For patients who achieved CR from the initial treatment, the relapse rate was significantly higher in those with Bcl-2 expression than in those without. In addition, multivariate analysis identified Bcl-2 expression as the only factor significantly related to relapse rate in the subjects measured. The cause-specific survival for NHL in the series as a whole was significantly lower in patients with Bcl-2 expression than in those without. MBR status had no significant influence on any of the outcome measures, but the number of MBR-positive patients was relatively small, and larger studies are required. In conclusion, in Working Formulation F, G, and H NHL of B-cell type, expression of Bcl-2 protein predicted independently for relapse.