Monoclonal antibodies to idiotypic determinants are being used with increasing frequency for analysis and treatment of B cell malignancies. In the present study we have compared the idiotypic specificities of a panel of 39 mouse monoclonal anti-idiotype (anti-Id) antibodies developed against 16 monoclonal human immunoglobulins (Ig). The Id cross-reactivities of these antibodies with Ig products of normal and abnormal B cells were examined by immunofluorescence and immunochemical methods. The reactivity patterns of these anti-Id antibodies with a normal population of plasma cells were highly variable in the immunofluorescence assay. Six were reactive with 2 to 10% of normal plasma cells, 30 with 0.1 to 2% of plasma cells, and three with less than 0.1% of plasma cells from blood, bone marrow, spleen, or tonsils. These reactivity patterns were relatively consistent among samples from 23 Caucasian, black, and Oriental adults. Although the reactivities of most anti-Id antibodies in the panel were not restricted to a particular Ig isotype, several were preferentially reactive with a particular heavy or light chain isotype: one IgM-, two IgA-, two kappa-, and three lambda-restricted antibodies. The immunofluorescence data was confirmed by biosynthetic analysis of Id+ molecules produced by a normal plasma cell population. When the reactivity of this panel of anti-Id antibodies with nonhomologous B cell neoplasms was examined, seven of 30 myelomas or leukemia-derived products and one of nine B cell leukemias or lymphomas without paraproteins were found to be cross-reactive with one or two of the anti-Id antibodies. Although clearly significant, the cross-reactivity between the Id of these paraproteins appeared to be of lower affinity than the reactivity of the homologous Id with their respective anti-Id antibodies. The results reveal a remarkable diversity in the specificities of monoclonal antibodies classified by conventional criteria as anti-Id antibodies, and indicate the potential usefulness of a panel of antibodies for analyzing clonal diversity in normal and abnormal B cell development.