B lymphocytes from the peripheral blood of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) were analysed for the nuclear presence and DNA binding of a panel of transcription factors which are involved in the gene control of lymphoid cells. The following transcription factors were studied: the Octamer factors Oct-1 and Oct-2, members of the AP-1 factor family, NF-AT factors, in particular NF-ATp, and members of the Rel/NF-kB family. We show that the constitutive nuclear translocation of NF-ATp, a member of the growing family of NF-AT factors, is a hallmark of nonstimulated B cells from CLL patients that distinguishes B-CLL cells from 'normal' B lymphocytes. Constitutive nuclear appearance was also observed for NF-kB2/p52. Constitutive binding of further factor proteins to DNA, such as JunD, c-Fos and FosB, was detected in several patients whereas the localisation and DNA binding of other factors such as c-Jun, RelA/p65 and c-Rel was unaltered. It is remarkable that in B-CLL cells the nuclear appearance and DNA binding of specific transcription factors is dramatically affected whereas other members of the same factor family remained unaltered in these leukemic cells. It remains to be shown which molecular events lead to the specific 'pre-activation', i.e. constitutive nuclear translocation and DNA binding, of these members of NF-AT, NF-kB and AP-1 factor families.