There is limited information regarding the role of flow cytometry crossmatching (FCXM) in primary cadaver kidney allografting and even less about B cell reactivity and graft survival (GS). Furthermore, there is little or no published data concerning reaction strength (cutoff value), the effect of historic sera reactions, and the usefulness of performing autologous crossmatches (XMs) on GS. These factors were examined retrospectively on 214 primary transplants performed from August 1991 to January 1994 with follow-up to July 1995. Three-color FCXMs were done on a 1024-channel BD-FACScan, and the shift in median channel fluorescence (MCF) over the negative control was calculated. All patients had a negative T cell (AHG) and warm B cell (2 was, extended incubation) cytotoxicity XM, and none was excluded in calculating GS. A quantitative effect was noted as stronger MCF shifts vs. T or B cells correlated with decreased GS (r = 0.98 and 0.92, respectively). Significant differences were seen with cutoff values of T = 50 and B = 110 which were 1.7-1.8 times the SD above the mean MCF of normal sera controls T neg patients (n = 198) and 1- and 3-yr actuarial GS of 86% and 79% compared to T pos patients (n = 16) of 75% and 49%, p = 0.008. B neg patients (n = 177) had 1- and 3-yr GS od 86% and 81% compared to B pos patients (n = 37) of 78% and 47%, p = 0.005. Most informative was the analysis of combined T and B cell FCXM results. Three years GS for T neg - B neg patients (n = 171) was 81% and for T pos - B neg patients (n = 6), it was 83%, p = 0.98. The 27 T neg - B pos group's GS was lower at 62% but did reach significance. Poorest GS was seen for T pos - B pos patients (n = 10) at 23%, p = 0.0001. Reaction patterns showed that T cells detected only HLA Class I antibodies, whereas B cells detected both Class I and II. Historic sera (> or = 1 month old) reactivity influenced GS. Patients with > or = 2 past sera positive but current serum negative reactions vs. T or T plus B cells (n = 7) had a poor 29% GS, while those historically positive only vs. B cells (n = 7) had 100% GS. On the other hand, patients positive only with the current serum (n = 16) had 2-yr GS of 100% (false positive test?), while patients whose current and historic sera reactions were positive (n = 21) had a 25-50% GS (true positive test?). About 1 in 15 patients (19%) displayed positive autologous FCXM reactions. Subtraction of autologous MCF shift values from those vs. the donor converted 17 patients to the T neg - B neg or T pos - B neg group whose 2-yr actual GS was not significantly different (p > 0.8) from those initially testing T neg B neg vs. their donors.