Hodgkin's disease (HD) is a lymphoproliferative disease of predominantly B-cell origin. However, the reasons for the incomplete development of the B-cell phenotype and lack of immunoglobulin expression in classical HD (cHD) have not been fully explained. We examined the expression of PU.1 in HD, an Ets-family transcription factor, which regulates the expression of immunoglobulin and other genes that are important for B-cell development. Immunohistochemistry for PU.1 was performed on 35 cases of cHD and 15 cases of lymphocyte predominance HD as well as 67 non-Hodgkin's lymphomas (NHL). Expression of PU.1 was studied by Western blotting in four cHD-derived cell lines and in five NHL cell lines. We also studied the expression of two additional B-cell transcription factors, B-cell-specific activator protein and Oct-2. Our results show a striking lack of PU.1 expression by neoplastic cells in cHD but not in lymphocyte predominance HD. Our study also confirmed that B-cell-specific activator protein but not Oct-2 is not expressed by cHD. Western blotting showed no PU.1 protein expression in the cHD-derived cell lines, with the exception of one cell line of putative monocyte/histiocyte origin. The lack of PU.1 protein expression in cHD likely contributes to the lack of immunoglobulin expression and incomplete B-cell phenotype characteristic of the Reed-Sternberg cells in cHD.