A minor population of blood cells deficient of glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI)-anchored membrane proteins is often detected in patients with aplastic anemia (AA), though the clinical significance of such paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH)-type cells remains unclear. To clarify this issue, we studied 164 patients with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) for the presence of CD55-CD59- granulocytes and red blood cells using sensitive flow cytometry. Among the different subgroups of MDS, a significant increase (ie, at least 0.003%) of PNH-type cells was detected in 21 of 119 patients with refractory anemia (RA); this frequency (17.6%) of RA patients with increased PNH-type cells (PNH+ patients) was much lower than what we previously reported (52.0%) for AA patients. PNH+ RA patients had distinct clinical features compared with RA patients without increased PNH-type cells (PNH- patients), such as less pronounced morphologic abnormality of blood cells, more severe thrombocytopenia, lower rates of karyotypic abnormality (4.8% vs 32.8%) and of progression to acute leukemia (0% vs 6.2%), higher probability of response to cyclosporine therapy (77.8% vs 0%), and higher incidence of HLA-DR15 (90.5% vs 18.5%). These data indicate that the presence of a minor population of PNH-type cells suggests a benign type of bone marrow failure, probably caused by an immunologic mechanism. To choose an appropriate therapy, peripheral blood should be tested using sensitive flow cytometry for the presence of PNH-type cells in all patients with bone marrow failure before treatment.