Currently available estimates of B cell life span vary from 4 d to 6 wk. The discrepancy may have arisen out of the selective effects of stress and drug cytotoxicity on short-lived populations. In this report, bromodeoxyuridine (BUdR), a drug that incorporates into the DNA of dividing cells, has been fed to rats in their drinking water, eliminating stressful injection procedures. Labeled cells in the recirculating B cell pool are identified in tissue sections using an mAb to BUdR. BUdR is shown to have no cytostatic effects at the dose used. Over a 5-d period of infusion, only 20% of the peripheral recirculating pool incorporate label (approximately 4% per day); labeling over various periods indicates that the peripheral B cell pool turns over in approximately 4 wk. To distinguish between turnover due to incorporation of new B cells into the peripheral pool and division of antigen-activated B cells rats underwent two consecutive periods of labeling, first with [3H]thymidine for 5 d and then with BUdR for a further 5 d. Virgin B cells newly derived from dividing precursors in the bone marrow do not continue to proliferate in the periphery, while activated cells undergo several rounds of division during both labeling periods. The results indicate that 3-4% of the peripheral pool is replaced by new B cells each day, while 0.3-0.6% become part of activated clones every day. Assuming that the peripheral pool of the rat contains 10(9) B cells, then 3-4 X 10(7) new B cells become stably incorporated per day. This represents approximately 10% of the putative output of the bone marrow.

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