AIM--To establish the role of immunohistochemistry (using a limited panel of antibodies) in detecting minimal involvement by follicular lymphoma in routinely processed bone marrow trephine specimens, which show no obvious morphological (light microscopic) evidence of lymphoma; to determine whether bcl-2 immunostaining in bone marrow distinguishes between benign and malignant infiltrates in a patient with nodal follicular lymphoma. METHODS--Twenty seven consecutively selected paraffin wax embedded, formalin fixed bone marrow trephine specimens were stained with the following antibodies: anti-bcl-2, anti-CD79a, anti-CD3, and kappa and lambda light chains, using the Streptavidin biotin complex technique. RESULTS--Five of the 27 cases, which showed no evidence of involvement by follicular lymphoma on routine stains, showed monotypic B cells on immunohistochemistry. Two of the cases were diffuse, while the remaining three showed mini-aggregates around bony trabeculae. In all five cases the lymphomatous infiltrates were strongly bcl-2 positive. Reactive B lymphoid nodules did not show the same degree of bcl-2 positivity, and negative cells could be discerned within the reactive nodules. CONCLUSIONS--There is merit in studying so-called negative bone marrows immunohistochemically in order to detect minimal involvement by follicular lymphoma. A limited panel of antibodies including anti-bcl-2, anti-CD79a and anti-CD3 is usually adequate to accomplish this. Strongly bcl-2 positive lymphoid aggregates in the bone marrow of patients with nodal follicular lymphoma are indicative of lymphoma.