The significance of the demonstration of a clonal B-cell population in gastric lymphoid infiltrates was investigated by analysis of immunoglobulin heavy chain (IgH) gene rearrangements using sensitive polymerase chain reactions, employing fluorescently labelled primers to target the FR3 and FR1 regions. Tissue blocks were studied showing different histological features (high-grade lymphoma, low-grade lymphoma, and chronic gastritis) from 12 gastrectomies for primary gastric lymphoma, together with blocks showing chronic gastritis from 13 cases of gastric adenocarcinoma and biopsies from 33 patients with active Helicobacter-associated chronic gastritis. Clonal IgH gene rearrangements were detected in lymphoma samples from eight of the gastrectomies for lymphoma (67 per cent). In four of these eight specimens, clonal rearrangements were also detectable in the samples showing only chronic gastritis. Three of 28 (11 per cent) informative biopsies showing active Helicobacter-associated chronic gastritis had detectable clonal populations. Clonal rearrangements were also demonstrated in two of eight (25 per cent) informative blocks showing chronic gastritis from eight gastrectomies for adenocarcinoma. It is concluded that the detection of a clonal population in a suspicious lymphoid infiltrate does not confirm the diagnosis of lymphoma, nor does the absence of such a population imply benignity.