We analyzed a cohort of 61 follicular lymphomas (FL) with an abnormal G-banded karyotype by spectral karyotyping (SKY) to better define the chromosome instability associated with the t(14;18)(q32;q21) positive and negative subsets of FL and histologic grade. In more than 70% of the patients, SKY provided additional cytogenetic information and up to 40% of the structural abnormalities were revised. The six most frequent breakpoints in both SKY and G-banding analyses were 14q32, 18q21, 3q27, 1q11-q21, 6q11-q15 and 1p36 (15-77%). SKY detected nine additional sites (1p11-p13, 2p11-p13, 6q21, 8q24, 6q21, 9p13, 10q22-q24, 12q11-q13 and 17q11-q21) at an incidence of >10%. In addition to the known recurring translocations, t(14;18)(q32;q21) [70%], t(3;14)(q27;q32) [10%], t(1;14)(q21;q32) [5%] and t(8;14)(q24;q32) [2%] and their variants, 125 non-IG gene translocations were identified of which four were recurrent within this series. In contrast to G-banding analysis, SKY revealed a greater degree of karyotypic instability in the t(14;18) (q32;q21) negative subset compared to the t(14;18)(q32;q21) positive subset. Translocations of 3q27 and gains of chromosome 1 were significantly more frequent in the former subset. SKY also allowed a better definition of chromosomal imbalances, thus 37% of the deletions detected by G-banding were shown to be unbalanced translocations leading to gain of genetic material. The majority of recurring (>10%) imbalances were detected at a greater (2-3 fold) incidence by SKY and several regions were narrowed down, notably at gain 2p13-p21, 2q11-q21, 2q31-q37, 12q12-q15, 17q21-q25 and 18q21. Chromosomal abnormalities among the different histologic grades were consistent with an evolution from low to high grade disease and breaks at 6q11-q15 and 8q24 and gain of 7/7q and 8/8q associated significantly with histologic progression. This study also indicates that in addition to gains and losses, non-IG gene translocations involving 1p11-p13, 1p36, 1q11-q21, 8q24, 9p13, and 17q11-q21 play an important role in the histologic progression of FL with t(14;18)(q32;q21) and t(3q27).