Using anti-Tac, a monoclonal anti-interleukin 2 (IL-2) receptor antibody, we have explored the possibility that certain activated B cells display receptors for IL-2. Resting normal B cells and unselected B cell lines established from normal individuals were Tac antigen negative. In contrast, the cell surface Tac antigen expression was demonstrable on 6 of 10 B cell lines from patients with Burkitt's lymphoma, 5 of 6 B cell lines derived from patients with HTLV-I-associated adult T cell leukemia (including all four that had integrated HTLV-I into their genome), and on certain normal B cells activated with pokeweed mitogen. Furthermore, cloned Epstein-Barr virus-transformed B cell lines derived from Tac-positive normal B cells continued to express the Tac antigen in long-term cultures and manifested high affinity IL-2 receptors identified in binding studies with purified radiolabeled IL-2. The line 5B4 developed in the present study could be induced with purified JURKAT-derived or recombinant IL-2 to express a larger number of IL-2 receptors. Furthermore, the addition of IL-2 to the 5B4 B cell line augmented IgM synthesis, which could be blocked by the addition of anti-Tac. The size of the IL-2 receptors expressed on the cloned normal B cell lines was similar (53,000-57,000 daltons) to that of receptors on phytohemagglutinin-stimulated T cell lymphoblasts. Thus, certain malignant and activated normal B cells display the Tac antigen and manifest high affinity receptors for IL-2. These data suggest that IL-2 may play a role in the differentiation of activated B cells into immunoglobulin-synthesizing and -secreting cells.