The activation of B cells confers long-lasting protection from a plethora of infectious diseases through the generation of plasma cells that produce high-affinity antibodies and memory cells. Engagement of the B cell receptor (BCR) with cognate antigen initiates intracellular signaling and subsequent internalization of antigen. Membrane-bound antigens are now considered the predominant forms that initiate B cell activation in vivo. We have shown that upon recognition of antigen on the surface of a presenting cell, the B cell undergoes a dramatic change in morphology characterized by rapid spreading followed by more prolonged contraction along the presenting surface. This two-phase response increases the amount of antigen that the B cell accumulates, internalizes, and subsequently presents to T cells. Thus, the spreading and contraction response shapes the outcome of B cell activation. We used a combination of planar lipid bilayers and total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy to investigate the early events that occur after engagement of the BCR and before B cell spreading. We observed the rapid formation of BCR-antigen microclusters, which we redefine as "microsignalosomes" because they mediate the coordinated recruitment of intracellular effectors, such as the kinases Lyn and Syk, the adaptor Vav, and phospholipase C-gamma2 (PLC-gamma2). We identified an essential role for the co-receptor CD19 in mediating spreading, and thus B cell activation, in response to membrane-bound antigen. Preliminary evidence suggests that the cellular morphology changes described in vitro are likely to occur upon recognition of antigen presented on the surface of macrophages in lymph nodes in vivo.