The endocytosis and intracellular metabolism of radiolabeled anti-CD3 MoAb 64.1 by the malignant human T cell line HPB-ALL were studied using biochemical, morphological, electrophoretic, and chromatographic techniques. Biosynthetically labeled [3H]64.1 and externally radioiodinated 125I-64.1 were similarly internalized and degraded by tumor cells, with approximately 70% of the initially bound radioactivity being released to the culture supernatant as trichloroacetic acid-soluble radioactivity in the first 24 hr of culture. Radiolabeled 64.1 was routed from the cell membrane to endosomes where initial proteolysis began and finally to lysosomes where terminal catabolism to single amino acids occurred. SDS-PAGE demonstrated four major intracellular metabolite species (46, 25, 15, and less than 10 kDa). Thin-layer chromatography demonstrated that greater than 95% of the trichloroacetic acid-soluble radioactivity in culture supernatants was 125I-monoiodotyrosine, indicating that proteases, not deiodinases, were of primary importance in catabolism of 125I-64.1. In the presence of inhibitors of lysosomal function (leupeptin, monensin, and ammonium chloride), 125I-64.1 degradation was impeded, causing prolonged retention of radioactivity in the lysosomal compartment of cells. However, although the pace of catabolism was markedly diminished by these agents, no major changes in the sizes of intermediate metabolites generated were observed. Our results suggest that judicious administration of lysosomal inhibitors (e.g. chloroquine, verapamil, monensin) may significantly enhance retention of radioimmunoconjugates by lymphoid malignancies, improving radioimmunoscintigraphic and radioimmunotherapeutic efforts.