We have obtained the complete variable region mRNA sequences of 11 LPS-derived and 14 secondary immunization-derived monoclonal IgM anti-IgG antibodies (rheumatoid factors, RFs). A comparative analysis of these sequences showed that monoclonal RFs derived after polyclonal activation are structurally very similar to RFs derived after secondary protein immunization. This study was undertaken to evaluate the potential relationship between two previously described phenomena: (a) during a secondary response to a protein antigen, RF is produced in quantities that equal or exceed the immunogen-specific antibody; and (b) the frequency of B cells that make RF after polyclonal activation is quite high; 3-10%. It has been unclear whether LPS-stimulated cells that produce IgM anti-IgG that is detected by an in vitro assay are related to the cells that produce RF after in vivo stimulation. The similarity of the antigen receptors found in the two types of RF, however, suggests that most or all of the RF-producing B cells detected after LPS stimulation would also be stimulated during the secondary immune response. Thus, the presence of relatively large number of B cells that can make RF after nonspecific stimulation provides an explanation for the magnitude of RF production accompanying the secondary immune response.