The normal counterpart of the neoplastic B cells occurring in Burkitt's lymphomas (BL) is an issue of controversial debate. To clarify this matter, a semi-nested primer polymerase chain reaction was performed to amplify the VDJ rearrangements of the immunoglobulin heavy chain (VH) gene of DNA extracts from 10 (8 sporadic and 2 endemic) BL cases. The resulting amplificates were sequenced for comparison with known germ line VH segments. The control cases comprised six cases of B cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia and six cases of mantle cell lymphoma known to display naive nonmutated, ie, pre-germinal center VH configurations; and eight cases of follicular center lymphoma known to display mutated VH genes with signs of a still-ongoing mutation reaction, characteristic for germinal center cells and lymphomas that derive therefrom. The results of this approach revealed that both sporadic and endemic BL express mutated VH genes with a mutation frequency considerably lower (4.9% and 5.4%, respectively) than that observed in follicular center lymphoma (11.8%). In addition, after subcloning the amplificates, sequence analysis revealed no signs of ongoing mutations. These results led us to conclude that the derivation of neoplastic B cells in BL is definitely not from naive, nonmutated pre-germinal center B cells. Instead, our findings support the view that BL cells stem either from early centroblasts that are arrested after an initial hypermutation reaction, or from germinal center B cells that have differentiated in terms of surface immunoglobulin profile and mutation pattern but not in terms of morphology and proliferation toward SIgM+ IgD- memory B cells because of the deregulated c-myc gene expression.