In vitro studies identified three Burkitts lymphoma cell lines, Ramos, MUTU-I and Daudi, that were growth inhibited by anti-IgM antibody. However, only Ramos and MUTU-I were sensitive to monoclonal antibodies (mAb) recognizing the Fc region of surface IgM (anti-Fc mu). Experiments using anti-Fc mu mAb (single or non-crossblocking pairs), polyclonal anti-mu Ab, and hyper-crosslinking with a secondary layer of Ab, showed that growth inhibition of B-cell lines was highly dependent on the extent of IgM crosslinking. This was confirmed by using Fab', F(ab')2 and F(ab')3 derivatives from anti-Fc mu mAb, where increasing valency caused corresponding increases in growth arrest and apoptosis, presumably as a result of more efficient BCR-crosslinking on the cell surface. The ability of a single mAb to induce growth arrest was highly dependent on epitope specificity, with mAb specific for the Fc region (C mu2-C mu4 domains) being much more effective than those recognizing the Fab region (anti-L chain, anti-Id and anti-Fd mu, or C mu1). Only when hyper-crosslinked with polyclonal anti-mouse IgG did the latter result in appreciable growth inhibition. Binding studies showed that these differences in function were not related to differences in the affinity, but probably related to intrinsic crosslinking capacity of mAb.