Using a recently developed method (Petersen, N. O., W. B. McConnaughey, and E. L. Elson, 1982, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA., 79: 5327-5331), we have measured changes in the deformability of lymphocytes triggered by cross-linking cell surface proteins. Our study was motivated by two previously demonstrated phenomena: the redistribution ("capping") of cross-linked surface immunoglobulin (slg) on B lymphocytes and the inhibition of capping and lateral diffusion ("anchorage modulation") of slg by the tetravalent lectin Concanavalin A (Con A). Both capping and anchorage modulation are initiated by cross-linking cell surface proteins and both require participation of the cytoskeleton. We have shown that the resistance of lymphocytes to deformation strongly increased when slg or Con A acceptors were cross-linked. We have measured changes in deformability in terms of an empirical "stiffness" parameter, defined as the rate at which the force of cellular compression increases with the extent of compression. For untreated cells the stiffness was ~0.15 mdyn/µm; for cells treated with antibodies against slg or with Con A the stiffness increased to ~0.6 or 0.4 mdyn/µm, respectively. The stiffness decreased after completion of the capping of slg. The increases in stiffness could be reversed to various extents by cytochalasin D and by colchicine. The need for cross-linking was demonstrated by the failure both of monovalent Fab’ fragments of the antibodies against slg and of succinylated Con A (a poor cross-linker) to cause an increase in stiffness. We conclude that capping and anchorage modulation involve changes in the lymphocyte cytoskeleton and possibly other cytoplasmic properties, which increase the cellular viscoelastic resistance to deformation. Similar increases in cell stiffness could be produced by exposing cells to hypertonic medium, azide ions, and to a calcium ionophore in the presence of calcium ions. These results shed new light on the capabilities of the lymphocyte cytoskeleton and its role in capping and anchorage modulation. They also demonstrate that measurements of cellular deformability can characterize changes in cytoskeletal functions initiated by signals originating at the cell surface.