Previous studies have indicated that immunoglobulin enhancers are essential for establishing transcriptional competence but not for maintaining the activity of constitutively transcribed genes. To understand the basis for this developmental shift away from dependence on enhancer function, we have investigated the relationship between transcriptional activity and methylation status of the immunoglobulin kappa light-chain genes (kappa genes) in mouse cell lines representing different stages of B-cell maturation. Using pre-B-cell lines in which the level of a critical kappa enhancer-binding factor, NF-kappa B, was controlled by the administration or withdrawal of lipopolysaccharide and plasmacytoma lines that either contain or lack this factor, we studied the properties of endogenous kappa genes and of transfected kappa genes which were stably integrated into the genomes of these cells. In the pre-B cells, the exogenous (originally unmethylated) kappa genes, as well as endogenous kappa genes, were fully methylated and persistently dependent on enhancer function, even after more than 30 generations in a transcriptionally active state. In plasmacytoma cells, the endogenous kappa genes were invariably hypomethylated, whereas exogenous kappa genes were hypomethylated only in cells that contain NF-kappa B and are thus permissive for kappa enhancer function. These results indicate that the linkage of hypomethylation to enhancer-dependent activation of kappa transcription occurs after the pre-B-cell stage of development. The change in methylation status, together with associated changes in chromatin structure, may suffice to eliminate or lessen the importance of the enhancer for the maintenance of the transcriptionally active state.