We report investigation of the relationship between ligand-induced B cell plasma membrane depolarization and increased expression of membrane-associated, I-A subregion encoded (mI-A) antigens. Results demonstrate that equal frequencies of B cells are stimulated to undergo membrane depolarization and to increase mI-A expression in response to mitogen, anti-Ig, and thymus-independent (TI) or thymus-dependent (TD) antigens. Further, a cause-and-effect relationship between these two events is suggested by results that demonstrate that inhibition of anti-Fab--induced depolarization by valinomycin also inhibits the subsequent increase in mI-A antigen expression and "passive" (non-ligand-mediated) depolarization of murine B cells by K+ results in hyper-mI-A antigen expression. Based upon these results we hypothesize that antigen-mediated receptor cross-linking results in signal transduction via membrane depolarization, which is resultant in increased mI-A antigen synthesis and cell surface expression. This increase in mI-A antigen density may render the B cell more receptive to subsequent interaction with I-region-restricted helper T cells.