Both anti-CD40 antibodies and anti-immunoglobulin (Ig) coupled to Sepharose induced proliferation of resting B cells and suppressed lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-induced B-cell differentiation to immunoglobulin secretion at comparable levels determined with the plaque-forming assay and Ig RNA steady state levels. Anti-CD40 antibodies also increased the proliferation of B cells stimulated by T helper cells in vitro while suppressing their differentiation to Ig secretion. Further, B cells preactivated by anti-Ig, anti-CD40 or a combination of the two mitogens could be restimulated by anti-CD40 but not by anti-Ig antibodies. Phenotypic divergence of Ig and CD40 signals regarding surface expression of activation markers was observed. Restimulation of anti-Ig- or anti-CD40-prestimulated cells with anti-Ig induced apoptosis whereas apoptosis could be inhibited when cells were recultivated with anti-CD40.