Mice homozygous for the scid (severe combined immunodeficiency) mutation are generally unable to produce B lymphocytes, a condition attributed to defective rearrangement of immunoglobulin genes in precursor B cells. Some early B-lineage cells are present in the bone marrow (BM), however. In scid mice, we defined three subsets of early progenitor B cells lacking mu heavy chains (pro-B cells) based on the expression of terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase (TdT) and B220 glycoprotein: (a) early pro-B cells (TdT+B220-), (b) intermediate pro-B cells (TdT+B220+), and (c) late pro-B cells (TdT-B220+). Double immunofluorescence labeling of BM cell suspensions has shown normal numbers of early and intermediate pro-B cells, substantially reduced numbers of late pro-B cells, and an absence of pre-B cells and B cells. Early and intermediate pro-B cells accumulated in metaphase in near- normal numbers after intraperitoneal (IP) vincristine administration. B220+ pro-B cells have been localized in BM sections by the binding of intravenously (IV) administered 125I monoclonal antibody (MoAb) 14.8, detected by light and electron microscope radioautography. Many B220+ cells were located peripherally in the bone-lining cell layers associated with stromal reticular cells. More centrally located B220+ cells were frequently associated with macrophages containing prominent cytoplasmic inclusions. Occasional B220+ cells were present in venous sinusoids. These results demonstrate that many pro-B cells in scid mice occupy microenvironments in the BM near the surrounding bone. The pro-B cells maintain normal rates of production during stages of presumptive mu heavy-chain gene rearrangement, apparently unaffected by the absence of a mature B cell pool. Nearly all defective cells then abort at the late pro-B cell stage and are deleted, apparently by macrophages. The findings contribute to models of in vivo differentiation, regulation, localization, and selection of early B-lineage cells in the BM.