The surface antigens expressed by the cells of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) are well known. Most CLL are monoclonal B-cell lymphoproliferative disorders characterized by the coexpression of B-cell antigens and CD5, an antigen present predominantly on T cells. Very little attention, however, has been paid to the quantitative characteristics of the expression of B-cell antigens in CLL. In this study, we used flow cytometry to analyze the expression of CD20, a well-known B-cell-associated antigen, in lymphocytes from 42 cases of CLL and its tissue counterpart, small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL), and compared the results with results obtained from the analysis of 21 follicular lymphomas, 20 hyperplastic reactive nodes, and 26 samples of normal peripheral blood. The intensity of CD20 expression in the CLL/SLL cells was significantly lower than that of B cells in the other categories. This antigen expression abnormality does not appear to be a universal phenomenon in CLL/SLL, since CD19, another pan-B antigen, was expressed in CLL/SLL at levels higher than those in follicular lymphomas and comparable to those in reactive lymph nodes. These results indicate that the low CD20 expression can be used as a marker for CLL/SLL. The few cases exhibiting intense CD20 expression may represent a biologically different disease. CLL/SLL cells faintly expressing CD20 also show concomitant low CD5 expression in a manner not observed in normal CD5-expressing B cells.