To assess the role of immunoglobulin D (IgD) in vivo we generated IgD-deficient mice by gene targeting and studied B cell development and function in the absence of IgD expression. In the mutant animals, conventional and CD5-positive (B1) B cells are present in normal numbers, and the expression of the surface markers CD22 and CD23 in the compartment of conventional B cells indicates acquisition of a mature phenotype. As in wild-type animals, most of the peripheral B cells are resting cells. The IgD-deficient mice respond well to T cell-independent and -dependent antigens. However, in heterozygous mutant animals, B cells expressing the wild type IgH locus are overrepresented in the peripheral B cell pool, and T cell-dependent IgG1 responses are further dominated by B cells expressing the wild-type allele. Similarly, in homozygous mutant (IgD-deficient) animals, affinity maturation is delayed in the early primary response compared to control animals, although the mutants are capable of generating high affinity B cell memory. Thus, rather than being involved in major regulatory processes as had been suggested, IgD seems to function as an antigen receptor optimized for efficient recruitment of B cells into antigen-driven responses. The IgD-mediated acceleration of affinity maturation in the early phase of the T cell-dependent primary response may confer to the animal a critical advantage in the defense against pathogens.