Human cell lines that resemble precursors in the B cell lineage have been found to synthesize J chain. In vivo pulse labeling, together with in vitro translation of total cellular RNA in a wheat germ cell-free system, detected the synthesis of J chain in immunoglobulin-secreting cell lines, in a cell line with only surface IgM, as well as in the pre-B-like cell line Josh 4 and the round cell lines Josh 7 and KLM 2. The primary translation products of J chain from all of these cell lines were found to be indistinguishable from one another by serologic criteria, by relative mobility on sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, by charge as judged by alkaline-urea gel electrophoresis, and by peptide mapping. These findings suggest that the onset of J chain biosynthesis represents a relatively early event in B cell ontogeny, occurring before the development of immunoglobulin polymer-secreting cells. Its role may, consequently, be fundamental to the biosynthesis of all immunoglobulins, at different stages of B cell differentiation.