The functional B cell repertoire in BALB/c mice was assessed at various stages in ontogeny. This was done by analyzing VH gene family expression using the sensitive technique of in situ hybridization. The B cell repertoire was probed with the mitogen, LPS, and the antigen DNP. DNP was chosen because B cells responsive to this hapten appear very early in ontogeny. The APCs that developed after stimulation with LPS or DNP were analyzed for VH gene expression by in situ hybridization of individual cells using radiolabeled VH gene family probes. The results indicated that VH gene expression in fetal B cells after stimulation was distinct from adult B cells in that there was a biased expression of D proximal families. The results indicated that this bias was associated with developmental age and not a given differentiation stage in the B cell lineage. In addition, stimulation of fetal B cells with DNP resulted in a large increase in expression of member(s) of VH 36-60, suggesting that the early appearance of DNP-responsive B cells is not strictly correlated with preferential rearrangement of D proximal families, VH 7183 and VH Q52. However, the results suggested that a large proportion of pre-B cells that preferentially rearrange D proximal families early in ontogeny become part of the functional developing repertoire.