The immune response to polysaccharide Ag develops late in ontogeny and the underlying mechanisms of the infant unresponsiveness are poorly understood. The development of vaccines that will prove efficacious in infants has been hindered by the lack of animal systems suitable for studying immunity to human pathogens. We have examined the BALB/c murine response to the capsular polysaccharide of Neisseria meningitidis group C (MCPS), a homopolymer of alpha(2----9) sialic acid, as a model system for the development of immunity to bacterial polysaccharides in man. We have observed the appearance of natural antibody of both IgM and IgG classes which increases with age, and the transfer of maternal IgG to the offspring. Both the naturally occurring and postimmunization serum responses are restricted to the IgM and IgG3 isotypes, and include antibody titers to both MCPS as well as a natural O-acetyl-negative variant (OAc-). The preimmune anti-OAc- antibodies, in contrast to anti-MCPS, were restricted to the IgM class, whereas after immunization with MCPS both IgM and low titers of IgG3 antibodies to OAc- were produced. These studies demonstrate that the BALB/c mouse strain shows a markedly similar immune profile to that observed in man.