B chronic lymphocytic leukemia (B-CLL) is a heterogeneous disease. The different morphological variants of leukemic B cells appear to define different clinical groups of patients. Several abnormalities have been found in T lymphocytes and natural killer (NK) cells from B-CLL patients. We have investigated the phenotypic and functional characteristics of purified CD2+ cells from B-CLL patients at Binet's stage A and classified according to the neoplastic B lymphocyte morphology criteria: 32 patients with typical B-CLL and 12 patients with atypical B-CLL. Forty-three age and sex matched healthy controls were also studied. In fresh purified CD2+ cells from typical B-CLL patients, percentages of CD4+, CD4+CD45RA+, CD8+CD45RA+ T lymphocytes and CD3-CD56+ (NK) cells were significantly higher than those found in atypical B-CLL patients. However, in DC2+ cells from typical B-CLL patients, percentages of CD3+, CD3+DR+, CD8+, CD4+CD45RO+, and CD3+CD56+ cells were significantly lower than those found in atypical B-CLL patients. Increased percentage of NK cells was only found in typical B-CLL patients. The proliferative response and the production of interleukin (IL)-2 and IL-4 by phytohemagglutinin (PHA) stimulated CD2+ cells were significantly higher in typical B-CLL patients than in atypical B-CLL patients. We concluded that different patterns of phenotypic and functional alterations in the T lymphocytes and NK cells of B-CLL patients are found in patients with typical or atypical B-CLL defined according to the morphology of the leukemic cells.