Pro and pre B cells possess the long-term capacity to proliferate in vitro on stromal cells and interleukin 7 (IL-7) and can differentiate to surface immunoglobulin (sIg+) cells upon removal of IL-7 from the cultures. A key event in this differentiation is the extensive cell loss due to apoptosis. Because the proto-oncogene bcl-2 can promote cell survival, we established pre-B cell lines from E mu-bcl-2 transgenic mice. These pre-B cells have the same properties as those derived from non-bcl-2 transgenic mice except that they do not die by apoptosis. This allowed us to study the fate of newly formed B cells in vitro for a longer period of time. Here we show that early during the differentiation of pre-B cells, upregulation of RAG-1 and RAG-2 expression go hand in hand with rearrangements of the Ig gene loci. Moreover, the newly formed sIg+ B cells continue to express RAG-1 and RAG-2 and continue to rearrange L chain gene loci, even in the absence of proliferation, in an orderly fashion, so that kappa L+ sIg+ cells can become lambda L+ sIg+ or sIg- cells, whereas lambda L+ sIg+ cells can become sIg-, but not kappa L+ sIg+ cells. Thus, deposition of a complete Ig molecule on the surface of a B cell does not automatically stop the Ig-rearrangement machinery.

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