Crosslinked IgM molecules expressed on the surface of immature B cells mediate responses that inhibit further development, in contrast to the activational and proliferative events that follow crosslinking of the mu heavy chain in mature B cells. Concomitant with this change in IgM signaling capacity is the appearance of surface IgD, which has been proposed to modulate the response elicited by the mu heavy chain. In an attempt to gain insight into the mechanism(s) by which surface IgM is able to generate such disparate responses, delta heavy chain gene transfectants of the murine B-cell lymphoma line WEHI-231 were established. WEHI-231 cells resemble phenotypically immature B cells, in addition to being highly susceptible to the growth-inhibitory effect of surface IgM cross-linking. Endogenous mu and exogenous delta heavy chains expressed on the surface of the transfectants were compared for their role in cell proliferation and on gene expression. Our results indicate that the growth-inhibitory response is associated only with the mu heavy chain and that surface IgD does not mediate such a response. Furthermore, in contrast to IgM, IgD molecules appear to have an inductive effect on the expression of Myc and the endogenous mu and exogenous delta Ig heavy chain genes but not on the expression of the housekeeping gene encoding beta 2-microglobulin. These findings suggest that IgM and IgD are functionally distinct when expressed on the surface of an immature B cell.