The function of thymic B cells in several standard in vitro assays was investigated. Thymic B cells, 75% of which were CD5+, showed a poor responsiveness to the mitogens LPS or anti-mu plus IL-4. Both proliferation and antibody formation were much lower in thymic than splenic B cell cultures. However, CD5- B cells purified using a cell sorter responded well to B cell stimulants, whereas purified CD5+ thymic B cells did not, indicating that CD5+ thymic B cells were unresponsive to B cell growth factor or LPS. Thymic B cells could be activated polyclonally by direct interaction with alloreactive T blasts, as manifested by DNA synthesis and antibody formation. These findings indicate that CD5+ thymic B cells may not be stimulated via sIg and IL-4, but require instead direct interaction with T blasts.