AIMS: To evaluate the overall incidence of immunoglobulin (Ig) and T cell receptor (TCR) beta and gamma gene rearrangements in a series of 40 cases of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) and to determine whether structural modifications of these genes could be correlated with the abnormal expression of lymphoid markers in malignant cells. METHODS: All cases were classified according to the criteria of the FAB group and immunophenotyped with a panel of monoclonal antibodies reactive with myeloid and lymphoid differentiation antigens. DNA analysis was performed by the method of Southern using probes for the Ig JH, TCR-C beta 1, and TCR-J tau 1 regions. RESULTS: Phenotypic analysis showed that in addition to myeloid markers, 10 cases expressed lymphoid antigens: CD7 in seven (of which three were TdT positive, one CD2 positive, and one CD19 positive) and CD19 in three. Southern blot analysis showed that bands with sizes different from the germ line control were present in the TCR beta genes in 11 cases: in six of 30 with pure myeloid phenotype and in five of 10 of those expressing lymphoid markers. A close observation of the size and patterns of those bands, however, showed that they could be artefactual. Indeed, further analysis showed that they were either due to resistant Eco RI/Hind III sites at the beta locus or to plasmid contamination. Rearranged genes were eventually found in only two of the 40 cases: at the Ig JH region in one of the 30 with pure myeloid phenotype (3.3%) and at the TCR gamma genes in one of 10 with lymphoid markers (10%). CONCLUSIONS: These observations showed that Ig/TCR gene rearrangements were rare in this AML series (overall incidence of 5%) and that they were not significantly more common in cases with aberrant expression of lymphoid markers. The size and pattern of the potential non-germline bands that can be found in these loci must be carefully evaluated.