CD44 is a widely distributed cell surface glycoprotein that participates in a number of cellular adhesion and signal transduction processes. Germinal center B cells express very low levels of CD44, whereas their precursors and differentiation products express much higher levels. In immunofluorescence studies comparing 20 antibodies classified as being against the hematopoietic isoform of CD44, one antibody, A1G3, was unreactive with germinal center B cells, whereas the other antibodies showed low intensity but definite reactivity. Western blotting and sequential immunoprecipitation studies of lysates from density-separated lymphocyte fractions showed two bands that were differentially expressed and reacted differently with A1G3 compared with the other CD44 antibodies. These results suggest that germinal center B cells and non-germinal center B cells express different forms of CD44. Of 21 malignant B-cell populations examined, 5 showed reactivity with a "standard" CD44 reagent and significantly reduced reactivity with A1G3, while one sample showed the opposite pattern and the remainder were positive for both reagents. Of 10 cell lines studied, 5 were differentially stained by A1G3 and a standard CD44 antibody. PCR amplification of reverse transcribed mRNA from sorted human tonsil B-cell subpopulations and Southern blotting showed that B cells express a number of splice isoforms of CD44. These results demonstrate that B cells express multiple forms of CD44; both splice insert isoforms and variants distinguished by A1G3; the form of CD44 expressed depends on B-cell differentiation state.