A rat monoclonal antibody specific for immunoglobulin (Ig) heavy chain binding protein (BiP) has allowed the examination of the association of BiP with assembling Ig precursors in mouse B lymphocyte-derived cell lines. The anti-BiP monoclonal antibody immunoprecipitates BiP along with noncovalently associated Ig heavy chains. BiP is a component of the endoplasmic reticulum and binds free intracellular heavy chains in nonsecreting pre-B (mu+, L-) cell lines or incompletely assembled Ig precursors in (H+, L+) secreting hybridomas and myelomas. In the absence of light chain synthesis, heavy chains remain associated with BiP and are not secreted. The association of BiP with assembling Ig molecules in secreting hybridomas is transient and is restricted to the incompletely assembled molecules which are found in the endoplasmic reticulum. BiP loses affinity and disassociates with Ig molecules when polymerization with light chain is complete. We propose that the association of BiP with Ig heavy chain precursors is a novel posttranslational processing event occurring in the endoplasmic reticulum. The Ig heavy chains associated with BiP are not efficiently transported from the endoplasmic reticulum to the Golgi apparatus. Therefore, BiP may prevent the premature escape and eventual secretion of incompletely assembled Ig molecules.

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