The filter paper disc method for cloning inducible lymphocytes was used to census the splenic B cell population of C57BL/6 and BALB/c mice for the expression of three VH gene-families, VH X-24, -Q52, and -J558. B cell colonies, arising from single founder lymphocytes, were identified by in situ hybridization with VH family- and C mu-specific cDNA probes. Some 6.7 X 10(4) C mu+ colonies were screened. Among C57BL/6- or BALB/c-derived colonies, approximately 3% were VH X-24+, approximately 19% were VH Q52+, and approximately 54% were VH J558+. These frequencies are consistent with a process of equiprobable expression for individual VH segments, and provide direct evidence that normal splenic B lymphocytes use a process of random genetic combinatorics to generate the antibody repertoire.