Very low levels of circulating monoclonal B-cell subpopulations can now be detected in apparently healthy individuals using flow cytometry. We propose the term 'monoclonal B-cell lymphocytosis' (MBL) to describe this finding. The aim of this document is to provide a working definition of MBL for future clinical, epidemiological and laboratory studies. We propose that the detection of a monoclonal B-cell population by light chain restriction is sufficient to define this condition in individuals not meeting the diagnostic criteria for other B-lymphoproliferative disorders. The majority of individuals with MBL will have cells that are indistinguishable from chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL). However, this blood cell clonal expansion of CD5+ or CD5- B-lymphocytes is age-dependent and immunophenotypic heterogeneity is common. Longitudinal studies are required to determine whether MBL is a precursor state to CLL or other B-lymphoproliferative disease in a situation analogous to a monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance and myeloma. Future studies of MBL should be directed towards determining its relationship to clinical disease, particularly in individuals from families with a genetic predisposition to developing CLL.