One of the characteristic features of Hodgkin's disease (HD) is the presence of a small population of often bizarre-looking large mono- or multinucleated Hodgkin and Reed-Sternberg (HRS) cells within the affected tissue. Recent cytogenetic investigations, studies of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) genomes present in HRS cells, and analyses of Ig gene rearrangements amplified from single, micromanipulated HRS cells show that these cells largely represent clonal populations. The finding of Ig gene rearrangements in HRS cells in most cases of HD identifies B cells as the precursors of HRS cells in most if not all cases. Furthermore, the presence and pattern of somatic mutations within the rearranged Ig genes show that HRS cells in classical (i.e. nodular sclerosis, mixed cellularity, and lymphocyte depletion HD) as well as lymphocyte predominant (LP) HD originate from germinal center (GC) B cells. Ongoing somatic mutation and evidence for selection link HRS cells from LP HD to a mutating, antigen-selected GC B cell. In classical HD, the finding of "crippling" mutations and lack of stringent selection for antigen receptor expression suggests that in this case HRS cells are derived from a compartment of GC B cells that were destined to die but escaped apoptosis by some transforming event. One candidate for the latter is EBV infection.