Leukemic blasts from 774 children with newly diagnosed acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) have been phenotyped by microcytotoxicity testing with a panel of monoclonal antibodies and heteroantisera as part of a Pediatric Oncology Group classification study of acute leukemia. One hundred twenty-two cases, or 16% were designated as T cell leukemia based on the reactivity of blast cells with previously well-characterized antisera (PT) against a T lymphocyte-associated antigen. Using this antisera-based definition as a standard, we looked for a monoclonal antibody combination that would be a suitable substitute. An algorithm calling for reactivity with either monoclonal antibody 3A1 or Leu-1 was a 92% sensitive and 97% specific predictor of PT reactivity. Only 27 of 755 cases of leukemia were incorrectly classified using this algorithm. Subsequently, Ficoll-Hypaque-separated bone marrow cells from 118 additional patients with ALL (21 of whom had T cell ALL) were stained by immunofluorescence using a combination of directly fluoresceinated 3A1 and Leu-1. Reactivity of 20% or more of the cells with this antibody combination was a 100% sensitive and 94% specific indicator of T cell ALL defined by PT positivity; with a higher cutoff value for positive values, or the use of supplemental tests, even this small number of false-positives could be eliminated. We conclude that this monoclonal antibody combination is a satisfactory replacement for our heteroantisera definition of T cell ALL.