The new monoclonal antibody (MoAb) B-ly7 was tested for its value in bone marrow diagnosis in patients with hairy cell leukemia (HCL). Cryostat sections of bone marrow biopsies were examined by an indirect immunoperoxidase technique. Lymphoma cells from all of 26 HCL cases investigated displayed strong surface membrane staining with the MoAb B-ly7, whereas tumor cells from only one of 63 patients with other lymphoproliferative disorders of B cell type reacted with this antibody. The strong reactivity of hairy cells (HCs) with this marker was not altered after therapy as demonstrated on control biopsies taken from patients treated with interferon(IFN)-alpha-2 or 2'deoxycoformycin(DCF) six-64 weeks after start of treatment. This fact as well as the very low number of B-ly7 positive cells found in a series of 13 normal bone marrow biopsies (mean: 0.3% of bone marrow cells, range: 0.0%-1.0%), which could easily be distinguished from HCs by their lower staining intensity and their morphological appearance, provided the basis for the detection of even single HCs. In our hands, in terms of sensitivity the immunohistological detection of HCs using the MoAb B-ly7 was not only superior to classical morphological techniques but also to other immunohistological parameters usually applied for this purpose. Therefore, this MoAb provides a marker for the identification of HCs, hence monitoring disease activity in HCL, and particularly for a critical response evaluation in patients undergoing treatment with IFN-alpha or DCF.