Expression of receptors for IgA (Fc alpha Rs) was investigated on a panel of 35 human B cell lines by labelling with human secretory IgA (0.5 mg/ml) and flow cytometry analysis after staining with fluoresceinated goat anti-human secretory component and/or anti-alpha chain F(ab')2 fragments. Receptors for IgA could be demonstrated on one out of nine Burkitt's lymphoma cell lines, three out of five myeloma cell lines and five out of 21 lymphoblastoid cell lines. The percentage of Fc alpha R-positive cells within the same B cell line varied upon repeated examination. Human dimeric IgA1 lambda myeloma protein revealed the same number of IgA receptor positive cells as did secretory IgA, whereas monomeric IgA did not bind to Fc alpha R. Detection of Fc alpha R was not inhibited when the tests were carried out in the presence of human dimeric IgG, IgM, asialo-orosomucoid, and secretory component but it was abrogated by pre-treatment of the cells with trypsin. The binding characteristics of Fc alpha Rs were studied on the myeloma cell line Esteve, using 125I-labelled human dimeric IgA and secretory IgA. The binding was dose-dependent with rapid kinetics and specific inhibition by unlabelled secretory IgA. Scatchard plot analysis resulted in an equilibrium constant K ranging from 3.2 to 4.7 x 10(6) M/l. No correlation was observed between Fc alpha R expression and differentiation stage, monoclonality, polyclonality of the cell lines, or Ig class produced by the B cells.