Lys-His-Gly-NH2 has been claimed to selectively induce B cell precursors to differentiate into mature B lymphocytes. In the present study, the effects of this tripeptide and a control compound having the reverse sequence (Gly-His-Lys-NH2) on growth and differentiation of chicken and mouse B cell precursors were investigated. When chicken bone marrow (BM) cells from 15-day-old embryos were treated for 18 hr with either of the tripeptides, the frequency of Bu-1 antigen-bearing cells increased. Moreover, when embryonic bursa cells were stimulated in vitro with phorbol myristate acetate, which induces them to proliferate and undergo terminal differentiation into immunoglobulin (Ig)-secreting cells, these compounds caused a 10-fold increase in the number of Ig-secreting cells but did not increase cell proliferation. They had no effect on neonatal or adult bursa cells. Embryonic bursa cells were cultured in the presence of either of the tripeptides and metabolically labeled with [35S]methionine. When immunoprecipitated Ig was analyzed by two-dimensional gel electrophoresis, no differences in mu heavy or lambda light chain diversity patterns could be detected, indicating that neither of these compounds enhances Ig diversification. The effect of these tripeptides on murine B cell precursors was assayed in cultures of BM cells depleted of mature B cells by 5-fluorouracil. When precursor cells were incubated without adherent BM stromal cells, they did not respond to the tripeptides. However, after incubation of precursors with adherent stromal BM cells for 2 days, followed by treatment with either of the two tripeptides, differentiation into lipopolysaccharide-reactive mature B cells took place. Incubation of precursors with adherent stromal BM cells in the absence of tripeptides was not sufficient to allow the precursors to complete differentiation. In addition, both tripeptides acted synergistically with interleukin 1 or interleukin 3. In conclusion, these tripeptides seem to enhance precursor B cell differentiation in a lineage-nonspecific manner rather than to function as lineage-specific differentiation hormones.