In vitro production of human antibody to the Haemophilus influenzae type b capsular polysaccharide (PRP) and to tetanus toxoid (TT) and diphtheria toxoid was measured in culture supernatants of peripheral blood mononuclear cells and by enumeration of antibody secreting cells (AbSC) in an enzyme-linked immunosorbent-plaquing assay. Normal adult peripheral blood mononuclear cells stimulated with Epstein-Barr virus secreted anti-PRP antibody with a frequency of 1/552 to 1/1190 relative to total Ig secreting cells; the frequency of AbSC to tetanus toxoid (TT) was 7.5 times higher (p less than 0.05). These frequencies did not change significantly after in vivo immunization, although the isotype distribution shifted toward increased IgG for TT and increased IgG and IgA for PRP. At 8 days postimmunization, spontaneous AbSC to PRP and TT were detected; frequencies for total anti-TT AbSC again being higher than anti-PRP, but there were significantly more IgA plaques among anti-PRP AbSC. Spontaneous AbSC were suppressed in culture by pokeweed mitogen and enhanced by cyclosporine. Three wk after in vivo immunization with PRP and TT, in vitro stimulation with pokeweed mitogen, Staphylococcus aureus Cowan 1 bacteria, or antigen induced anti-TT but not anti-PRP in vitro antibody secretion, although Epstein-Barr virus induced both. These data suggest that PRP, a polysaccharide, and TT, a protein, differ in their requirements for in vitro activation with antigen and mitogens.