Immunoglobulin light chains are usually secreted from cells when they are synthesized alone or in molar excess of heavy chains, but, there have been reports of nonsecreted light chains. We wished to determine whether immunoglobulin heavy chain binding protein (BiP), which blocks the transport of free heavy chains, might be responsible for the lack of secretion of some light chains. In two murine lymphoid cell lines that synthesize but do not secrete immunoglobulin light chains, the free light chain polymers were found bound to BiP. Examination of 20 other cell lines and hybridomas failed to disclose any cells synthesizing free or excess light chains that associated with BiP; in all cases the free light chains were secreted as dimers. Despite their association with BiP and their blocked secretion, the aberrant light chains could combine with heavy chains and could be secreted as intact Ig molecules. Thus, while light chains do not usually express signals which allow them to bind to BiP, it appears that such signals can be expressed on certain light chains, resulting in their combination with BiP and blocked secretion. When single chain mutant cell lines are isolated from parental lines producing both heavy and light chains, they are almost always light chain producers suggesting that free heavy chains are much more toxic than free light chains. In both PC700 and P3X63Ag cells, however, clones that have lost either heavy chains or transport-defective light chains are present at the same frequency. Our findings that the light chains in both of these lines are associated with BiP raise the possibility that BiP actually contributes to heavy chain toxicity instead of preventing it. © 1990.