Activated Th cells deliver contact-dependent signals to resting B lymphocytes that initiate and drive B cell proliferation. Recently, a ligand for the B lymphocyte membrane protein, CD40, has been identified that delivers contact-dependent Th cell signals to B cells. A dimeric soluble form of CD40 was produced and used to further characterize the regulation of expression of the CD40 ligand. Expression of the CD40 ligand was rapidly induced after Th lymphocyte activation, and its stability depended upon whether Th cells were activated with soluble or plastic-bound stimuli. Th cells activated with soluble stimuli rapidly turned over cell-surface CD40 ligand whereas Th cells activated with plastic-bound stimuli exhibited more stable CD40 ligand expression for up to 48 h. Removal of activated Th cells from the plastic-bound stimulus resulted in a rapid turnover of CD40 ligand, suggesting that continuous stimulation could maintain CD40 ligand expression. Ligation by soluble CD40 could also stabilize expression of CD40 ligand on the Th cell surface. Both CD40 ligand and IL-2 were transiently synthesized from 1 to 12 h after Th cell activation and had similar kinetics of synthesis. In Con A-activated Th cells newly synthesized CD40 ligand exhibited an initial high turnover (1.5 h t1/2) and after 5 h of Th cell activation became more stable (10-h t1/2). In Th cells activated with plastic-bound anti-CD3, CD40 ligand exhibited a similar biphasic turnover except that the rapid turnover phase began significantly later. This delay could allow more time for newly synthesized CD40 ligand to assemble or associate with other molecules and thus become stabilized on the cell surface. Newly synthesized CD40 ligand in Con A-activated Th cells appeared to not be efficient in delivering Th cell-dependent contact signals to resting B cells, implying the need for assembly or accessory proteins. Regulation of CD40 ligand expression was consistent with all the characteristics of Th cell-delivered contact signals to B cells and may contribute to the high degree of specificity in B cell responses.