A specialized subpopulation of T lymphocytes is reactive to the MHC class I-like molecule CD1d. It is not clear which cells are the major antigen-presenting cells in vivo in the activation of CD1-restricted immune responses. We have characterized a subset of B lymphocytes expressing six- to eightfold higher levels of CD1 than the bulk of B cells. The cells have a surface phenotype (CD21(high), CD23(low), IgM(high), IgD(low)) found previously to characterize B cells residing in the splenic marginal zones. CD1(high) B cells localize preferentially to the spleen, and appear late in ontogeny, at 3 - 4 weeks of age. The CD1(high) B cells were present in mice lacking conventional helper T cells, ruling out an exclusive origin from T cell-dependent immune responses. Still, some CD1(high) B cells had been involved in T cell-dependent immune responses as suggested by mutations in their rearranged immunoglobulin gene regions. The population could still be found in mice with severely reduced B cell reactivity to bacterial lipopplysaccharides (C3H / HeJ mice) and in mice unable to respond to thymus-independent type 2 antigens (NFR.Xid mice), as well as in germ-free mice, indicating that bacterial antigens are not major stimuli for the induction of CD1(high) B cells. In contrast, the CD1(high) B cell population was severely reduced in CD19-deficient mice. Taken together, the results imply that the CD1(high) population is heterogenous and of mixed origin, dependent for its development or maintenance on signaling through the CD19 molecule.