Determination of the biologic potential of lymphoid proliferations in biopsies can be difficult by standard histological or even immunohistochemical examination. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) has been used with increasing frequency to detect clonal rearrangements of the immunoglobulin heavy chain (IgH) in formaldehyde fixed, paraffin wax embedded tissues. Sensitivity ranges between 50 and 80%, and therefore at least 20% of neoplasms remain undetected by these approaches. Few investigators have attempted to detect immunoglobulin light chain (IgL) gene rearrangements by PCR using paraffin wax embedded samples. We studied 29 cases of B-cell neoplasms, along with 21 cases with equivocal histology and 4 reactive biopsies, using degenerate oligoprimers to amplify Ig(kappa) and Ig(lambda) light chain genes, along with IgH (Fr 1, 2 and 3) gene rearrangement analysis. The combination of these methods detected clonality in 93% of cases (27/29) with histological diagnosis of B-NHL. Fr2 and Fr3 primers detected clonality in 79% (23/29) of cases. IgL chain rearrangements detected 4 cases (14%), negative for IgH rearrangements, improving sensitivity from 79 to 93%. Clonality was detected in 52% (11/21) of histologically equivocal lymphoid proliferations, including one case detected by IgL rearrangements which was negative for IgH rearrangements. Archival material from 4 cases with reactive histology produced polyclonal results. These results confirm that PCR based immunoglobulin gene rearrangement is a sensitive and specific method for demonstrating B-cell clonality in paraffin-wax embedded sections. The addition of IgL analysis to the IgH assay allows the detection of greater than 90% of B-cell lymphoproliferative disorders from routine histological specimens with poor preservation of genomic DNA.