Using amplified cDNA and genomic libraries, we have analyzed the VH gene repertoire of pre-B cells and various B cell subsets of conventional mice at the level of VH genes belonging to the J558 VH gene family. The sequence data were evaluated on the basis of a newly established list of 67 J558 VH genes that comprise approximately two-thirds of the J558 VH genes of the murine IgHb haplotype. The results of the analysis demonstrate that VH gene utilization in pre-B cells, although biased to some extent by B cell autonomous VH gene selection, scatters over the whole range of J558 VH genes present in the germline. In contrast, in mature, peripheral B cells comprising long-lived mu + delta high B cells as well as Ly-1 B cells, small overlapping sets of germline VH genes are dominantly expressed. The data indicate that the recruitment of newly generated B cells into the long-lived peripheral B cell pool is mediated through positive selection by internal and/or external antigens. Because of the absence of immunoglobulin class switching and somatic hypermutation, this process is different from the selection of memory B cells in T cell-dependent immune responses.