The term "benign lymphoepithelial lesion" is used to describe the salivary-gland lymphocytic infiltration and epithelial changes typically found in association with Sjögren's syndrome. We used Southern blot hybridization techniques to examine the immunoglobulin genes in salivary-gland tissue derived from eight patients with benign lymphoepithelial lesions. Three of these patients had intrasalivary non-Hodgkin's lymphoma complicating the lesions, whereas the lesions in the remaining five were all histologically benign. Ten samples from the eight patients all revealed rearrangement of both the heavy-chain and light-chain immunoglobulin genes. In one of the patients in whom non-Hodgkin's lymphoma involved both the salivary-gland lesion and an ipsilateral lymph node, the rearrangements of the heavy-chain and light-chain immunoglobulin genes detected at the two sites were identical. One other patient had two distinct benign lymphoepithelial lesions removed two years apart. The rearrangements of the heavy-chain as well as the kappa light-chain genes detected in these two lesions were entirely different. These data suggest that B-cell clonal expansion has an integral role in the pathophysiology of the benign lymphoepithelial lesion and may explain the increased incidence of lymphoma noted in association with this disorder.