Serum or plasma specimens from 252 patients with lymphoid malignancies were screened for reactivity with adult T-cell leukemia virus-associated antigen (ATLA), and the relationship between the immunologic phenotype of the tumor cells and ATLA reactivity was determined. Anti-ATLA antibodies were found in 24 (29.3%) of 82 patients with T-cell malignancy. In contrast, the antibodies were found in none of the 106 patients with B-cell malignancy and only rarely in patients with other lymphoid malignancies without blood transfusions. Among the patients with T-cell malignancy, anti-ATLA antibodies were found in 23 (45.1%) of the 51 patients with OKT4-positive mature T-cell (inducer/helper T-cell) malignancy, but in none of the patients with T-cell malignancy of pre-T, thymic T-cell or OKT8-positive mature T-cell (suppressor/cytotoxic T-cell) phenotype. Furthermore, among the OKT4-positive mature T-cell malignancies, the antibodies were found in 16 (84.2%) of 19 patients with ATL and in 5 (27.8%) of 18 patients with mature (peripheral) T-cell lymphoma, in none of four with typical T-chronic lymphocytic leukemia, in one of nine with mycosis fungoides and in the one patient with small-cell variant of Sézary's syndrome. These results suggest that anti-ATLA positive T-cell malignancies with OKT4-positive mature T-cell phenotype must be the same disease, because it is highly possible that they have the same etiology and the same cellular origin. In the atypical cases, it seems necessary to demonstrate monoclonal integration of proviral DNA of ATLV or HTLV into the tumor cells in order to establish the final diagnosis of ATL.