These studies examined the role of the MHC class II Ag in signal transduction using human B lymphocytes. Early events in signal transduction were considered including the intracellular calcium [Ca2+)i) flux, the activation of phospholipase C, and induction of protein phosphorylation. The (Ca2+)i was enhanced after incubation of B lymphocytes with several mAb anti-HLA class II and cross-linking with rabbit anti-mouse-F(ab')2. We have also demonstrated an enhancement of the (Ca2+)i in response to a suboptimal concentration of a monoclonal anti-IgM either in the presence of or after preincubation with a mAb anti-HLA class II. The activation of phospholipase C was assessed by measuring the generation of inositol phosphates in permeabilized B lymphocytes. mAb anti-HLA-class II of two different epitopes were used to demonstrate both the (Ca2+)i flux and the generation of inositol phosphates. Two-dimensional gel electrophoresis was used to investigate the phosphorylation pattern of resting B lymphocytes and the changes in the pattern after stimulation with soluble mAb anti-HLA-DR, immobilized mAb anti-HLA-DR, and PMA. In addition to the augmentation of phosphorylation observed with regard to phosphoproteins already present in resting B lymphocytes, new phosphorylations were observed after stimulation by any one of the reagents. Furthermore, stimulation by PMA did not result in an identical pattern to that observed after stimulation by mAb anti-HLA class II. An inhibition of the proliferative response to PMA was demonstrated after prestimulation of cells with immobilized mAb anti-HLA-DR, supporting the notion of a shared pathway of activation. In summary, these data demonstrate signal transduction via MHC class II Ag as assessed by three different measures of early events in human B lymphocyte activation and suggest that a protein kinase C pathway is at least partly involved.