The excess risk of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) in the first- degree relatives of affected patients suggests that familial CLL might constitute a useful model to study the pathogenesis of this disease, as has been demonstrated in numerous other neoplastic disorders. Previous studies have shown non-random utilization of immunoglobulin genes in CLL, some germline in sequence and others containing numerous somatic mutations. To investigate whether familial cases of CLL exhibit similarities in the composition of the B-cell receptor repertoire to the pattern expressed by CLL patients as a whole, we have studied 25 CLL patients belonging to 12 different families (four French and eight Italian), each of which contained at least two affected members. Among familial cases, V(H) gene segment utilization proved non-random and diverged from the frequencies previously reported among unrelated patients with CLL. Specifically, although the 4-34 and 5-51 gene segments were found repeatedly, the 1-69 and 4-39 gene segments were used sparingly and the 3-23 gene segment presented with increased frequency. Following the pattern detected in studies of unrelated patients, the single 1-69 expressing CLL contained an unmutated H chain sequence and included a long HCDR3 interval. In contrast, 3-23 containing H chains all used J(H)4, retained at most 93% homology with germline sequence, and included only short HCDR3 intervals. The vast majority of the CLL variable domains contained a high degree of somatic mutation and exhibited an excess of replacement mutations in the CDR intervals. These findings suggest that familial CLL cases may preferentially derive from B-cell progenitors that have responded to antigen.