Hairy cell leukemia (HCL) is a chronic B cell malignancy characterized by the diffuse infiltration of bone marrow and spleen by cells displaying a typical "hairy" morphology. However, the nature of the HCL phenotype and its relationship to normal B cells and to other lymphoma subtypes remains unclear. Using gene expression profiling, we show here that HCL displays a homogeneous pattern of gene expression, which is clearly distinct from that of other B cell non-Hodgkin lymphomas. Comparison with the gene expression profiles of purified normal B cell subpopulations, including germinal center (GC), pre-GC (naive), and post-GC (memory) B cells, shows that HCL cells are more related to memory cells, suggesting a derivation from this B cell population. Notably, when compared with memory cells, HCL cells displayed a remarkable conservation in proliferation, apoptosis, and DNA metabolism programs, whereas they appeared significantly altered in the expression of genes controlling cell adhesion and response to chemokines. Finally, these analyses have identified several genes that are specifically expressed in HCL and whose expression was confirmed at the protein level by immunocytochemical analysis of primary HCL cases. These results have biological implications relevant to the pathogenesis of this malignancy as well as clinical implications for its diagnosis and therapy.