To determine efficiently the clonality of B-cell lymphoproliferative disorders, we modified an immunoglobulin heavy-chain (IGH) gene rearrangement polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay that requires only a single primer germline variable (VH) and joining (JH) pair and does not involve nested priming, blot hybridization, radioactivity, or sequencing of the amplified PCR product. This simple PCR technique enabled detection of IGH gene rearrangements in as little as 10 pg (one cell equivalent) of DNA or when the clonal-to-polyclonal B-cell ratio was experimentally set at 1:1000. We detected IGH gene rearrangements in 83.5% (71 of 85) of clonal B-cell processes, a sensitivity approaching that of more cumbersome multiple primer and nested primer assays. Moreover, this technique is equally effective with fixed tissues, either B5 or formalin, and can be performed on minute samples, histologic sections, fine-needle aspirates, or cerebrospinal fluids. When compared with conventional Southern blot analysis using a genomic JH probe, the PCR assay demonstrated IGH gene rearrangements in 82% (37 of 45) of B-cell processes positive by Southern blot. No false-positive results were observed in 29 negative control tissues. We now use IGH gene PCR routinely in our laboratory for the detection of clonal B-cells in virtually any tissue sample as an aid in early diagnosis, staging, and monitoring, and the Southern blot procedure is reserved for only a minority of diagnostic cases. for only a minority of diagnostic cases.