To explore the cell surface molecules expressed on pre-B cells we have produced a panel of alloantibodies against transformed pre-B cells from BALB/c mice by immunizing a wild mouse, Mus spretus. One of these antibodies, BP-3, recognized glycoproteins of Mr 38,000 to 48,000 on pre-B cells transformed either by the Abelson murine leukemia virus or an erb B oncogene construct. Removal of N-linked oligosaccharides from the BP-3 Ag revealed a single core protein of Mr 32,000. The Ag was expressed by bone marrow cells in all but one (A/J) of the inbred mouse strains tested and in wild mice of biochemical groups Mus-1 and Mus-2. Analysis of the tissue distribution revealed expression of the BP-3 reactive molecule on normal pre-B and B cells in the bone marrow, 35% of B cells in the circulation, 30% of the B cells in the spleen, and less than or equal to 20% of B cells in lymph nodes, peritoneal cavity, and Peyer's patches. The subpopulation of BP-3+ B cells in bone marrow and peripheral tissues displayed an immature phenotype (IgM IgD +/- ). Examination of a panel of transformed B lineage cells confirmed the early stage-specific expression of the BP-3 alloantigen. In addition, a myeloid cell line and normal myeloid cells were found to express the BP-3 alloantigen. In contrast to B lineage cells, the level of BP-3 expression increased as a function of myeloid cell differentiation. Myeloid cells in the bone marrow expressed relatively little Ag, whereas circulating neutrophils and peritoneal macrophages expressed relatively high levels of the BP-3 alloantigen with Mr 38,000, 41,000, and 46,000. The data suggest that this variably glycosylated cell surface protein could play different roles in the differentiation of B lineage and myeloid lineage cells. The BP-3 alloantigen appears to be a useful marker for virgin B cells that have recently migrated from the bone marrow to the periphery.

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