Populations of murine peritoneal B-1 and splenic B-2 cells, highly purified by negative selection techniques, were used to demonstrate that B-1 cells completely fail to enter cell cycle in response to surface immunoglobulin M (sIgM) crosslinking without any decrease in cell number or viability. This failure of B-1 cell responsiveness appears to represent a specific defect in sIgM-derived signaling inasmuch as stimulation to enter S phase occurs normally in response to activated and fixed T cells, and to lipopolysaccharide (LPS). The level at which sIgM signaling fails was determined by evaluating the nuclear expression of the transcription factor complex, NF-kappa B, whose sIgM- mediated induction in B-2 cells is dependent on protein kinase C (PKC) activation but is independent of protein synthesis. There was no induction of nuclear NF-kappa B in B-1 cells stimulated by sIgM crosslinking, although NF-kappa B was stimulated by phorbol myristate acetate and by LPS. In contrast, NF-kappa B was induced in B-2 cells by all three stimuli. Thus, in B-1 cells, the sIgM-mediated induction of a transcription factor that is substantially stimulated by anti-IgM in B- 2 cells is blocked. However, all sIgM-derived signaling in B-1 cells was not impaired inasmuch as anti-IgM increased I-A antigen expression. These results strongly suggest that sIgM receptor-mediated signaling in B-1 cells is interrupted early in the signal transduction pathway, at a point proximal to the activation of PKC. These results further demonstrate that transcription factor induction can be used to analyze the level at which receptor-mediated signaling is blocked.