One of the most controversial questions in immunology is the molecular basis by which Th lymphocytes deliver activating signals to quiescent B lymphocytes during T cell-dependent immune responses. Recent studies suggest that T cell-dependent activation of quiescent B lymphocytes may involve signaling mediated by direct T helper cell-B cell contact. Since B cell membrane-associated MHC-encoded class II molecules (Ia) must be recognized by Th lymphocytes for generation of T cell-dependent humoral immune responses, they are obvious candidates for receptors of this signal. Here we report that stimulation of quiescent murine B cells with IL-4 and antibodies against the B cell antigen receptor for 12-16 h primes cells to proliferate in response to immobilized mIa binding ligands. In the presence of additional lymphokines, these B cells differentiate to secrete Ig of IgM and IgG classes. These results suggest that Ia molecules are receptors for direct, T helper cell-B cell contact mediated signaling that results in B cell proliferation.