Rearrangement of the tal-1 gene (also known as SCL or TCL-5) occurs in at least 25% of T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemias (T-ALLs) and results in the aberrant expression of tal-1 mRNA in the neoplastic cells. Also, tal-1 mRNA is constitutively expressed in erythroid precursors and megakaryocytes. This report describes a direct immunocytochemical study of the distribution and localization of TAL-1 protein in normal human tissues and cell lines using four monoclonal antibodies raised against recombinant TAL-1 proteins. One of these reagents recognizes a protein of 41 kD molecular weight in in vitro- translated TAL-1 proteins, two others recognize proteins of 39 and 41 kD molecular weight, and the fourth antibody also recognizes a TAL-1 protein of 22 kD in addition to the 39- and 41-kD proteins. These anti- TAL-1 antibodies label the nuclei of erythroid precursor cells and megakaryocytes in fetal liver and adult bone marrow. The punctate pattern of nuclear labeling suggests that TAL-1 may comprise part of a novel nuclear structure, similar to that recently found for the PML protein. The nuclei of T cell lines known to express mRNA encoding the full-length TAL-1 protein (eg, CCRF-CEM, RPMI 8402, and Jurkat) are also labeled. A study of normal human tissues (including thymus) showed labeling of smooth muscle, some tissue macrophages, and endothelial cells. TAL-1 protein is undetectable in other cell types. These reagents may play an important role in the diagnosis of T-ALL and could also be used in the context of lymphoma diagnosis on routinely fixed material.