Treatment of murine B cells with bacterial lipopolysaccharide (LPS) in the presence or absence of different lymphokines results in cell populations that differentially express particular immunoglobulin heavy chain constant region (CH) genes. This class switch involves recombination between switch regions located upstream of the germ-line CH genes. We have treated Abelson murine leukemia virus-transformed pre-B cells and normal splenic B cells with LPS or LPS plus the lymphokine IL-4 and examined the effect on the germ-line gamma 2b locus and gamma 2b class switching. In both cell types, LPS induces transcription specifically through the germ-line gamma 2b locus before gamma 2b class switching. Furthermore, IL-4 inhibits LPS induction of germ-line gamma 2b transcripts in spleen cells and correspondingly abrogates switching to this CH gene. Thus treatment with mitogens and lymphokines can alter transcription of germ-line CH genes in B lineage cells and thereby directly regulate class switching in the context of a recombinase accessibility mechanism.