There is accumulating evidence that TGF beta 1 is an important immunoregulatory molecule. Here we report evidence that TGF beta 1 has potent effects on murine B cells. It is profoundly inhibitory to the proliferation of quiescent B cells activated in model systems using both thymus-independent and thymus-dependent stimuli and arrests cells predominantly at the G1 cell-cycle stage. It also blocks the proliferation of B cell blasts, with a similar accumulation at stage G1. In parallel with this antiproliferative effect, TGF beta 1 inhibits induction of the expression of a series of "activation Ag" including transferrin receptor, RL388, and Ly-6, in mitogen-stimulated B cells. It also inhibits the induction of Ly-6 expression by IL-4, a nonmitogenic stimulus. In contrast to these negative influences, TGF beta 1 induces modestly increased expression of MHC class II Ag in quiescent B cells, and more marked increases in both B cell blasts and mitogen-stimulated cells. We speculate that in the appropriate context TGF beta 1 may be a cytokine that promotes productive B cell-Th cell interaction.