The formation of neoplastic B-cell follicles is universally accepted as diagnostic of a follicle centre cell (FCC) lymphoma. Low-grade B-cell lymphomas of mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) are characterized by a diffuse infiltrate of cells of uncertain lineage known as "centrocyte-like" cells because of their resemblance to centrocytes (small cleaved cells). Some MALT lymphomas, however, contain numerous follicles and may even have a predominantly follicular appearance. These follicles may be reactive or show immunoglobulin (Ig) light-chain restriction, indicating their neoplastic nature. We have proposed that these neoplastic follicles are not composed of follicle centre cells but result from colonization of reactive follicles by CCL cells. In this study, the immunophenotype and genotype of 10 primary gastrointestinal lymphomas with a follicular component have been determined. One case exhibited the morphological, immunophenotypic, and genotypic features of FCC lymphoma (Ig light-chain restriction, CD10+, KB61 (CDw32)-, Jh, and bcl-2 gene rearrangement). Neoplastic follicles in the remaining nine cases, which showed the features of MALT lymphoma, were of a different phenotype (Ig light-chain restriction, CD10- KB61(CDw32)+), and these lymphomas showed Jh but not bcl-2 gene rearrangement. Taken in conjunction with the morphological features, these findings suggest that in these cases the neoplastic follicles formed as the result of colonization of previously reactive follicles by neoplastic CCL cells. Thus, not all lymphomas containing neoplastic follicles are of FCC origin. Follicular colonization, as seen in low-grade MALT lymphomas, is likely to be a recapitulation of an as yet undescribed normal immunological phenomenon that may involve marginal zone B cells.