Previous studies have implicated a role for protein kinase C (PKC) in transmembrane signal transduction by B cell surface immunoglobulin (Ig). Specifically, the pharmacologic PKC activator phorbol myristate acetate mimics the biologic effects of mIg cross-linking ligands, and cross-linking of membrane Ig (mIg) induces polyphosphoinositide hydrolysis generating diacylglycerol, a potent activator of PKC. Studies described here additionally implicate PKC in mIg-mediated signaling by demonstrating rapid translocation of activatable PKC (PKCa) from cytosol to Triton-soluble membrane fractions after cross-linking of cell surface IgM or IgD. This response, which is also induced by phorbol myristate acetate and lipolysaccharide, is detectable within 1 min of mIg cross-linking and is followed within 4 min by additional translocation of PKCa to a Triton-insoluble particulate compartment. The ability of dbcAMP plus theophylline to inhibit polyphosphoinositide hydrolysis, PKCa translocation, and the B cell's subsequent biological response suggests that these events may be causally related.