To determine the fate of anti-DNA antibody-bearing B cells in normal mice, we generated transgenic mice bearing the heavy (H) and light (L) chain genes of a well-characterized anti-double-stranded DNA antibody. This antibody was originally isolated from a diseased MRL/lpr mouse and has characteristics common to spontaneously arising anti-DNA antibodies. Results show that the H/L transgene (tg) immunoglobulin receptor is not expressed by animals bearing both tgs, although single tg animals (H or L) express their transgenes. Young H/L tg animals express few B cells, whereas adult H/L tg animals maintain almost normal B cell numbers. Analysis of the immunoglobulin receptors used by adult B cells shows that all contain the tg H chain in association with endogenous L chains. These B cells transcribe the L tg as well as the rearranged endogenous L chain gene, and loss of endogenous L chain gene transcription results in resurrection of the 3H9 H/L tg product. Examination of the endogenous L chains used by these cells shows that they represent a highly restricted subset of V genes. Taken together, these data suggest that autoreactive transgenic B cells can rearrange endogenous L chain genes to alter surface receptors. Those L chains that compete successfully with the L tg for H chain binding, and that create a nonautoreactive receptor, allow the B cell to escape deletion. We suggest that this receptor editing is a mechanism used by immature autoreactive B cells to escape tolerance.