CD15 expression has been used for years to confirm the diagnosis of Hodgkin's disease (HD). Little is, however, known on the relevance of the CD15 antigen to the pathobiology of the disease and there is conflicting evidence as to the prognostic value of its expression. To investigate the significance of the differential expression of CD15 in Hodgkin's disease, a retrospective study of 102 patients with "classical" Hodgkin's disease was performed. Immunohistochemical studies were carried out using antibodies against two types of CD15: non-sialylated CD15 (LeuM1 and 80H5) and sialylated CD15 (FH6 and CSLEX1). Cases that were negative for non-sialylated CD15 or positive for the sialylated variant were stained again following neuraminidase pretreatment. The cohort included 27 patients in whom sequential biopsies were available. Both CD15 expression in its non-sialylated form and absence of sialyl-CD15 expression correlate with a favorable outcome. Subsequent biopsies show a preferential expression of sialyl-CD15, notably in bone marrow metastases. Our findings suggest that, in the progression of HD towards a widely disseminated disease, the LewisX moiety of the CD15 antigen on the tumor cells acquires a sialyl-group. This change may confer on the tumor cells the capacity to metastasize.