Development of mammalian B-lineage cells is characterized by progression through a series of checkpoints defined primarily by rearrangement and expression of immunoglobulin genes. Progression through these checkpoints is also influenced by stromal cells in the microenvironment of the primary tissues wherein B-cell development occurs, ie, fetal liver and bone marrow and adult bone marrow. This review focuses on the developmental biology of human bone marrow B-lineage cells, including perturbations that contribute to the origin and evolution of B-lineage acute lymphoblastic leukemia and primary immunodeficiency diseases characterized by agammaglobulinemia. Recently described in vitro and in vivo models that support development and expansion of human B-lineage cells through multiple checkpoints provide new tools for identifying the bone marrow stromal cell-derived molecules necessary for survival and proliferation. Mutations in genes encoding subunits of the pre-B cell receptor and molecules involved in pre-B cell receptor signaling culminate in X-linked and non-X-linked agammaglobulinemia. A cardinal feature of these immunodeficiencies is an apparent apoptotic sensitivity of B-lineage cell at the pro-B to pre-B transition. On the other end of the spectrum is the apoptotic resistance that accompanies the development of B-lineage acute lymphoblastic leukemia, potentially a reflection of genetic abnormalities that subvert normal apoptotic programs. The triad of laboratory model that mimic the bone marrow microenvironment, immunodeficiency diseases with specific defects in B-cell development, and B- lineage acute lymphoblastic leukemia can now be integrated to deepen our understanding of human B-cell development. (C) 2000 by The American Society of Hematology.