A series of murine B lymphoid tumor cell lines which are representative of the pre-B cell, immature and mature B cell, and plasma cell stages of B cell development have been examined for expression of c-myb proto-oncogene mRNA. The pre-B cell lymphoma cell lines express equivalent high steady state levels of c-myb mRNA. In contrast, the B cell lymphoma and plasmacytoma cell lines express steady state c-myb mRNA at levels which are 0.005 to 0.1 times that of the pre-B cell lymphoma lines. These results correlate high levels of c-myb mRNA expression with the pre-B cell stage of development. Subclones of the 1881 pre-B cell lymphoma which express K light chain and are surface IgM-positive as well as two types of hybrid B lymphoid cell lines have been used to demonstrate that surface immunoglobulin expression is not sufficient to result in the down-regulation of c-myb mRNA levels or changes in the expression N-myc mRNA, lambda 5 mRNA, or the BP-1 surface antigen which are markers of the pre-B cell stage of development. Thus, changes in the expression of genes which are independent of immunoglobulin expression are associated with transition from the pre-B cell to the immature B cell stage of development.