The function and immunoregulation of human IgA memory B cells producing anti-influenza virus antibody was analyzed in vitro in antigen-stimulated cultures. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from seven of eight normal adult volunteers naturally immunized to influenza virus produced IgA anti-influenza virus antibody when stimulated in vitro with inactivated A/Aichi/68 [H3N2] influenza virus. This IgA antibody response was approximately one-eighth the IgG antibody response. PBMC from each of five patients with selective IgA deficiency failed to produce any measurable IgA antibody. When tonsillar mononuclear cells (TMC) were studied in a similar manner, a relatively higher IgA antibody response was obtained (one-third the IgG antibody) than with PBMC. Additional studies were undertaken to investigate the immunoregulation of this IgA antibody production and the relatively lower amount produced by PBMC than by TMC. Co-cultures of peripheral blood B cells with irradiated peripheral blood T cells (to possibly inactivate a radiosensitive IgA suppressor cell) did not result in a relative increase in IgA antibody production. Also, co-cultures of B cells with increasing numbers of T cells produced parallel increases of IgG and IgA antibody when plotted on a log scale with slopes of approximately 1, suggesting that a single helper T cell was limiting for both isotypes. Finally, pokeweed mitogen-stimulated co-cultures of peripheral blood and tonsillar B and T cells revealed that the B cell population, but not the T cell population, determined the amount of IgA anti-influenza virus antibody produced. Precursor frequency analyses of tonsillar and peripheral blood B cells in antigen-stimulated cultures confirmed that tonsils contained a higher precursor frequency of B cells for IgA anti-influenza virus antibody production (3.95/10(6) B cells) than did peripheral blood B cells (0.65/10(6) B cells). Thus, IgA memory cells are preferentially found in tonsillar tissue as compared with the peripheral blood, consistent with the role of the tonsils as a mucosal immune organ.