Although many different protocols for transfection of lymphoid cell lines exist, successful DNA transfer into primary B lymphocytes has, to date, not been demonstrated. We now describe a simple method for gene transfer into highly purified normal and malignant B lymphocytes by electroporation. Using a powerful expression vector containing two copies of the cytomegalovirus (CMV) immediate early enhancer linked to the human T cell lymphotropic virus I (HTLV I) promoter, we could demonstrate transfected gene expression in both high density small 'resting' B cells and in low density 'activated' B cells. Successful transfection was detected by expression of chloramphenicol acetyl transferase and by immunofluorescence. The neoplastic cells of B cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia could also be transfected with an efficiency of 5-10%, but only after preactivation. This method of transfection will permit analysis of the contribution of individual genes and their products to normal and malignant B cell growth and differentiation.