We have identified a 24-kilodalton protein that is the product of the human bcl-2 gene, implicated as an oncogene because of its presence at the site of t(14;18) translocation breakpoints. The Bcl-2 protein was detected by specific, highly sensitive rabbit antibodies and was shown to be present in a number of human lymphoid cell lines and tissues, as well as in mouse B cells transfected with a bcl-2 cDNA construct. Characterization of the Bcl-2 protein demonstrated that it has a lipophilic nature and is associated with membrane structures, probably by means of its hydrophobic carboxy-terminal membrane-spanning domain. In t(14;18)-carrying cell lines, the protein is predominantly localized to the perinuclear endoplasmic reticulum, with a minor fraction in the plasma membrane. These properties, together with the observations that Bcl-2 does not have a characteristic signal peptide and is not glycosylated, suggest that it is an integral-membrane protein that spans the bilayer at its C-terminal hydrophobic region but is exposed only at the cytoplasmic surface. The relative abundance of the Bcl-2 protein in various human lymphoid cell lines correlated with transcription of the bcl-2 gene. The protein was abundant in all t(14;18)-carrying cell lines and lymphomas and was also found at lower levels in pre-B-cell lines and nonmalignant lymphoid tissues that do not carry t(14;18) translocations. These results suggest that the Bcl-2 protein is functional in normal B lymphocytes and that a quantitative difference in its expression may play a role in the pathogenesis of lymphomas carrying the t(14;18) translocation.