In vitro, human B lymphocytes undergo long-term proliferation when activated through CD40, a protein expressed on their cell surface. The nature of CD40-dependent signals in proliferating fresh human Epstein-Barr virus-negative B lymphocytes is currently unknown. In this study, a CD40-dependent B cell culture system was used to examine the role of different signal transduction elements. Protein kinase C (PKC) depletion generated by a long-term phorbol 12 myristate 13-acetate treatment had weak effects on proliferation. Rather, tyrosine phosphorylation was shown to be directly involved in mediating CD40-dependent signals. The use of the protein tyrosine kinase (PTK)-specific inhibitor herbimycin A dramatically decreased cellular proliferation without altering the activity of the human immunodeficiency virus-1 long terminal repeat (HIV-1 LTR), a promoter largely dependent on the binding of nuclear factor kappa B (NF- kappa B). In contrast, the cAMP-dependent protein kinase specific inhibitor H-89 totally inhibited HIV-1 LTR activity at a concentration as low as 100 nM without affecting cellular proliferation. Electrophoretic mobility shift assay (EMSA) and supershift assay using an NF-kappa B binding sequence from the kappa light chain as a probe, revealed that both p65 (RelA) and c-Rel were present in CD40-stimulated B cells. While PKC depletion did not alter the NF-kappa B level, treatment of B lymphocytes with H-89 or herbimycin A provoked a decrease in the NF-kappa B level. These observations establish the importance of different signal transducing pathways leading to CD40 activation of B lymphocytes.