A characteristic series of immunological abnormalities are observed in the human genetic disorder ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T). The recent cloning of a gene mutated in this syndrome provides additional evidence for a defect in intracellular signaling in A-T. We have investigated the possibility that signaling through the B cell antigen receptor is one manifestation of the A- T defect. In response to cross-linking of the B cell receptor, several A-T cell lines were defective in their mitogenic response; in addition Ca2+ mobilization from internal stores was either absent or considerably reduced in these cell lines in response to cross-linking. The defect in signaling was not due to difference in expression of surface immunoglobulin. The defective response in A-T cells was also evident in several arms of the intracellular cascade activated by B cell cross-linking. Tyrosine phosphorylation of phospholipase Cγ1, a key step in activation of the enzyme, was reduced or negligible in some A-T cell lines. This defect in signaling was also seen at the level of Lyn tyrosine kinase activation and its association with and activation of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase. Our results provide evidence for a role for the ATM gene product in intracellular signaling which may account at least in part for the abnormalities in B cell function in A-T.