Signal transduction via the B cell AgR complex has recently been shown to be dependent on the activation of one or more protein tyrosine kinases. Similarly, it has been found that signal transduction requires the expression of the protein tyrosine phosphatase CD45. Thus, transduction of a signal after AgR cross-linking must involve the coordinate interaction of these two enzymatic activities. It is therefore logical to hypothesize that the competence of the B cell to respond to ligands that bind the AgR may be dependent on the maintenance of an equilibrium between the tyrosine phosphorylation and dephosphorylation of specific signal transduction components. We have demonstrated in the present study that in resting B cells, the basal level of AgR complex tyrosine phosphorylation is regulated by cellular protein tyrosine phosphatases. Treatment of cells with the protein tyrosine phosphatase inhibitor, Na3VO4, resulted in rapid hyperphosphorylation of the receptor complex. Based on this observation, experiments were designed to examine the role of CD45 in regulation of AgR complex phosphorylation. Treatment of B cells with anti-CD45 mAb alone was found to have no effect on cytoskeletal association of CD45 or on its distribution within the membrane. Addition of a secondary cross-linking reagent, however, induced the association of CD45 with the cytoskeleton and caused capping. Subsequent studies demonstrated that increased tyrosine phosphorylation of the mIg-associated proteins MB-1 and B29 could be induced after incubating cells with anti-CD45 mAb and a secondary cross-linker, but not after the addition of anti-CD45 mAb alone. Changes in tyrosine phosphorylation of MB-1 and B29 were found to correlate with the cytoskeletal association of CD45. Interestingly, although cross-linking CD45 induced alterations in its association with the cytoskeleton and in its distribution within the membrane, no significant change in the level of protein tyrosine phosphatase activity could be detected under these conditions. These findings support the possibility that ligand binding to CD45 can induce biochemical and/or physical alterations in the molecule that presumably inhibit its ability to interact with specific substrates in the cell, thereby shifting the established equilibrium between tyrosine-specific phosphorylation and dephosphorylation.