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There is a diagnostic grey zone between classic Hodgkin lymphoma (cHL) and some non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), including primary mediastinal B cell lymphoma, diffuse large B cell lymphoma, and anaplastic large cell lymphoma. They all have some morphological and/or phenotypic features in common. To investigate this, we undertook an expression profiling study of these lymphomas using comparative expressed sequence hybridization. This technique detects chromosomal regions that are differentially expressed between a test and a reference tissue in a manner similar to comparative genomic hybridization, and is particularly suitable when the number of informative biopsies is limited. Using this approach, we identified a unique expression profile for all lymphoma types investigated. Unsupervised hierarchical cluster analysis of the acquired data showed that cHL separates from all investigated NHLs, including ALCL-like HL. Moreover, anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK)-negative ALCL clustered in a separate branch together with ALCL-like HL. Thus, analysing the neoplastic cells concurrently with their microenvironment, ALK-negative ALCL and ALCL-like HL seem to be related to each other, while cHL constitutes a separate lymphoma entity. Copyright © 2006 Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.