Ten consecutive diffuse histiocytic lymphoma (DHL) cell lines established in our laboratory were studied for the presence of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) genomes, lysozyme, nonspecific esterase and other cytochemical reactions, phagocytic activity, cytoplasmic immunoglobulin light and heavy chains, and surface receptors to sheep erythrocytes, complement, and the Fc fragment of immunoglobulin. In agreement with previous studies performed on biopsy specimens, our results indicate that the diffuse histiocytic lymphomas, as a histopathologic entity, represent a heterogeneous group of neoplasms, the majority of which are B-lymphocyte in origin. The cell lines appear to fall into three categories based on the following criteria: 1) presence of monoclonal cytoplasmic immunoglobulins (B-lymphocytic type, 6/10 cell lines); 2) presence of non-specific esterase, phagocytic activity, and/or lysozyme (histiocytic type, 2/10 cell lines); and 3) absence of all lymphoid and histiocytic cell characteristics (null cell type, 2/10 cell lines). Despite the fact that many of the lymphoma patients had positive serologies to EBV antigens, all of the DHL cell lines were negative for the presence of EBV genomes. Both of the two B-lymphocytic type and one of the two histiocytic type lines tested were susceptible to infection with EBV, as indicated by synthesis of early antigen and also, in a small proportion of the infected cells, of viral capsid antigen. These prototypic DHL cell lines may permit the development of new criteria for the differential diagnosis and treatment of this highly malignant and diverse group of lymphomas.