To elucidate the mechanism of Ag drive in the anti-DNA response, the Ab response to bacterial DNA has been analyzed in normal and autoimmune mice. Preautoimmune NZB/W mice immunized with Escherichia coli dsDNA produce Abs that resemble spontaneous autoantibodies and bind mammalian dsDNA. In contrast, normal mice, when immunized similarly, produce Abs that bind only bacterial dsDNA. To characterize further the responsiveness of NZB/W mice to bacterial DNA, we determined the molecular properties of mAbs from preautoimmune NZB/W mice immunized with E. coli DNA. Of nine Abs studied, all were IgM and all bound mammalian ssDNA, while four had appreciable reactivity with mammalian dsDNA. The induced anti-dsDNA resembled spontaneous anti-DNA from autoimmune mice in V gene utilization and V(H) CDR3 arginine content. These Abs lacked evidence of somatic mutation, however, indicating that affinity maturation via somatic mutation is not essential for dsDNA reactivity. The findings suggest that preautoimmune NZB/W mice have immunoregulatory defects that allow activation of mammalian dsDNA reactive B cells by bacterial DNA.