Detailed studies of steady-state ion fluxes in murine lymphocytes were used to examine for possible ionic changes generated by surface Ig, the antigen receptor of B lymphocytes. When bound by ligands, surface Ig triggered the mobilization and release of 45Ca2+ from the cell interior by a transmembrane process requiring crosslinking of the bound receptors. This ionic event was unique for two reasons: it did not occur when other common lymphocyte surface macromolecules were bound with rabbit anti-lymphocyte antibodies; and it was not accompanied by a general perturbation of lymphocyte ionic properties such as a change in 42K+ fluxes nor did it depend on the presence of extracellular ions. Capping of surface Ig shares the same time sequence, dose response, requirement for crosslinking, and lack of dependence on extracellular ions. These correlations suggest that mobilization of intracellular Ca2+ may represent an early ionic signal for the contractile activation of lymphocytes that generates capping of surface Ig.