During B cell development, the surface expression of CD79 alpha/CD79 beta heterodimers had been thought to begin in the pre-B cell stage where the heterodimers constitute pre-B cell receptors together with mu heavy and surrogate light chains. Thereafter, in mature B cells, CD79 alpha/CD79 beta associates with surface Ig to form B cell antigen receptors. In this study, we revealed by using newly established mAb that CD79 beta was expressed on the surface of pro-B cells which had not undergone the productive Ig gene rearrangement. Biochemical analysis showed that CD79 beta on pro-B cells existed either as monomers or as disulfide-linked heterodimers with CD79 alpha, non-covalently associated with four unidentified membrane molecules. Our finding that CD79 beta is expressed on earlier B-lineage cells than previously expected coincides with the recent study in which CD79 beta-deficient mice exhibit a blockade of B cell differentiation at the pro-B cell stage. Thus, it is speculated that the CD79 beta-containing complexes on pro-B cell surfaces may function to induce early B cell differentiation.