To better understand the role of NF-kappaB in normal B cell physiology, we used a purified population of resting B cells from p50/NF-kappa B knockout (p50-/-) mice to determine their ability to proliferate, secrete Ig, express germ-line CHRNA, and undergo Ig isotype switching in vitro in response to a number of distinct stimuli. p50-/- B cells proliferated normally in response to dextran-anti-IgD Abs (alpha delta-dex) and membrane-bound, but not soluble, CD40 ligand (CD40), and they were virtually unresponsive to LPS when compared with control B cells. p50-/- B cells secreted markedly reduced Ig in response to alpha delta-dex or mCD40L in the presence of IL-4 + IL-5, despite their relatively normal proliferative rates, whereas normal Ig secretion was restored by the combination of alpha delta-dex and CD40L. p50-/- B cells expressed normal steady-state levels of germ-line CH gamma 1 and CH alpha RNA but markedly reduced germ-line CH gamma 3 and CH epsilon RNA upon appropriate stimulation. Although p50-/- B cells underwent substantial switching to IgG1, a marked reduction in the switch to IgG3 and IgE, as IgA, was observed. These data are the first to demonstrate key, independent roles for p50/NF-kappaB in normal B cell maturation to Ig secretion, germ-line CH gene activation, and Ig class switching, as well as mitogenesis, and provide a powerful and well-defined in vitro model system for studying the role of p50/NF-kappaB in a wide range of normal cellular functions.