We examined the expression of the cyclin-dependent kinase 4, p34PSK-J3/cdk4 protein, in small dense, activated, and proliferating primary B lymphocytes. A small steady state level of cdk4 synthesis was detected in resting B cells. Stimulation of resting B cells with mitogenic amounts of F(ab')2 fragments of goat anti-mouse IgM (anti-Ig) resulted in increased synthesis of cdk4 protein during the mid to late G1 phase of the cell cycle; LPS or the combination of phorbol ester and calcium ionophore also elevated cdk4 levels. Resting B cells that we rendered competent by treatment with IL 4 or low doses of anti-Ig or, alternatively, were activated by phorbol ester or ionomycin alone also exhibited heightened cdk4 protein levels. Subsequent analysis of potential cdk4 regulatory subunit D-type cyclins revealed that cyclin D2, not cyclin D1 or D3, is expressed in primary mature B lymphocytes. The induction of cyclin D2 synthesis in response to mitogenic anti-Ig paralleled cdk4 expression; however, IL-4 or low dose anti-Ig alone did not increase the rate of de novo cyclin D2 synthesis above that of resting B cells. The significance of the lack of cyclin D2 regulation by competence-inducing growth factors was demonstrated, in that only mitogenic factors that stimulated DNA synthesis 1) led to the formation of stable cyclin D2/cdk4 holoenzyme complexes during G1 phase progression, and 2) afforded the isolation of anti-cyclin D2 or anti-cdk4 immunoprecipitates that phosphorylated retinoblastoma. These findings suggest a role for these proteins during the mid to late G1 phase progression and possibly the G1/S phase transition in primary mature B lymphocytes.