Peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBL) of 20 patients with multiple myeloma (MM) were assayed for clonality by Southern blot and cell surface marker analysis. Eight samples showed monoclonal origin of circulating lymphocytes by demonstrating rearrangements of the heavy chain immunoglobulin gene (IgH). In selected experiments, comparison of IgH rearrangements of bone marrow plasma cells and peripheral blood-derived mononuclear cells, highly enriched for B lymphocytes, proved to be identical. However, monoclonal circulating cells could not be detected in samples with rearranged IgH genes by surface marker phenotyping using one-color immunofluorescence analysis and a panel of monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies to various B lineage-associated antigens. These results indicate that in a substantial proportion of MM, monoclonal growth involves circulating B lymphocytes and underscores the clinical usefulness of Southern analysis of IgH gene rearrangements for monitoring this disease.