X-linked agammaglobulinemia (XLA) results from a failure of B lymphoid development. We have previously examined pre-B cell hybrids from three patients with XLA and found them to be limited to production of a novel germ line transcript of the Ig H chain locus composed of a leader sequence (LS) spliced to the constant region of mu chain (C mu) as mRNA and polypeptide. These transcripts result from transcriptional activation of the germ line heavy chain locus from an LS exon upstream of the embryonic JH locus. Germ line LS-C mu transcripts are produced by pre-B cells from normal bone marrow and fetal liver, indicating that they are products of normal pre-B cell development, as part of the process of transcriptional activation to provide access for the recombinase. Bone marrow from three patients with XLA has been examined directly by polymerase chain reaction amplification to determine whether the exclusive production of LS-C mu by XLA pre-B cell hybrids is representative of XLA pre-B cells. I report that LS-C mu is the predominant Ig molecule produced by XLA pre-B cells, with limited production of the D mu product of DJH intermediate stage of V(D)J recombination. Mature VHDJH recombinations were not detected with a variety of primers that amplify VH sequences. I conclude that XLA is associated with a limitation in V(D)J recombination that may cause the failure of pre-B cell development.