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We have investigated in vitro the magnitude, nature, and regulation of spontaneous and mitogen-induced Ig secretion by splenic lymphocytes from several autoimmune murine strains (NZB, NZB X W, MRL/l BXSB) and appropriate, normal mice. All autoimmune strains had increased numbers of mature splenic B lymphocytes, which secreted and/or contained Ig, compared to age-matched normal strains. In NZB and NZB X W mice, the high frequency of mature B cells was apparent early in life, whereas in MRL/l and BXSB mice it was first noted shortly before the clinical onset of disease. Spleen cells from young autoimmune mice of all four strains secreted predominantly IgM, but with aging and the appearance of disease, the cells switched to IgG secretion predominantly. In contrast, spleen cells from normal mice were predominantly IgM, but with aging and the appearance of disease, the cells switched to IgG secretion predominantly. In contrast, spleen cells from normal mice were predominantly IgM secretors throughout the animals' lives. Approximately 15% of the total Ig-secreting cells in older NZB, NZB X W, and MRL mice were committed to secretion of anti-ssDNA antibodies. In both autoimmune and normal spleen cells, the B-cell population alone contained fewer secreting cells than the total lymphocyte population, indicating that T cells were required to achieve maximal levels of plaque-forming cells. Spleen cells of NZB and NZB X W mice had a greater response to lipopolysaccharide (LPS) than other autoimmune and normal strains. Responsiveness to LPS, as measured by the frequency of induced Ig-secreting cells, was considerably diminished with age and onset of disease in all autoimmune but not in normal strains. LPS- induced Ig secretion by B cells of autoimmune and normal mice was subject to regulation by splenic T cells. No significant differences were observed between concanavalin-A (Con A) stimulated spleen cells from young and older autoimmune mice and normal control strains in effectively suppressing spontaneous and LPS-induced Ig secretion. Moreover, B cells from autoimmune mice and from normal strains were equally receptive to Con A-induced suppressor signals. T cells from young and older NZB and BXSB mice added to a standard number of B cells from syngeneic young mice provided equal help in enhancing LPS-induced Ig secretion, and this help in turn was equivalent to that provided by T cells from normal mice of the same H-2 haplotype. The exception was the MRL/l strain; T cells from older animals provided considerably more help than T cells from young MRL/l or T cells from young and older H-2- compatible normal mice.