Specific chromosomal translocations found in distinct neoplasms suggest that genes that flank such breakpoints play a critical role in transformation. We have characterized the t(14;18)(q32;q21) chromosomal translocation present in over 60% of human follicular lymphomas. We exploited an unexpected rearrangement of an Ig heavy-chain gene to clone the chromosomal breakpoint. An element isolated from 18q21 mediated translocations in all four t(14;18) bearing cell lines and in six of 11 follicular lymphomas, but did not normally rearrange in other B or non-B cells. The breakpoints clustered within a small 4.3 kb region on chromosome 18. The breakpoints on chromosome 14 were focused within or immediately 5' to JH. These breakpoints retained the Ig enhancer region close to a new transcriptional unit identified on chromosome segment 18q21. Since none of the cellular oncogenes are known to map to 18q21, cloning this element provides an opportunity to characterize a potentially new transforming gene.