The pattern of VH gene family expression in the primary B cell repertoire of the mouse is strain dependent. In C57Bl/6 mice, the VH J558 family is expressed by more than 45% of the cells, while the expression of VH 7183, VH Q52, and VH 36-60 families together does not exceed 20%. In BALB/c mice, relative expression of VH J558 is lower than 35%, while the sum of the other three families reaches 25%. To assess which genetic loci control strain-specific VH gene family expression, we studied VH gene family usage in splenic B cell repertoires of different congenic strains of mice. Changes in major histocompatibility complex or immunoglobulin (Ig) K light chain genes did not modify VH gene family expression in adult mice. Differences at the IgH locus, however, modified VH gene family usage. In 1-d-old mice, the strain-specific VH gene family expression pattern is determined by the IgH haplotype. In adult mice, the VH gene family expression pattern of resting B cells is independent of the IgH locus and follows the genetic background of the congenic strain, while it is determined by the IgH haplotype among Ig-secreting spleen cells. In F1(B6 x BALB/c) mice, each of the two spleen B cell populations, sorted on the basis of mu heavy chain allotype expression, shows an independent VH gene family expression pattern, determined by the IgH locus. The implications of these results in the control of VH gene family expression, and in the selection of peripheral B cell repertoires are discussed.