Rheumatoid factors (RFs) are autoantibodies directed against the Fc part of IgG. Considerable evidence exists that there are two classes of RFs, pathological and physiological. Whereas pathological RFs are associated with disease, physiological RFs are considered to be a normal component of the immune response. RF(+) precursor B cells present as part of the B cell repertoire of healthy individuals are held responsible for the production of physiological RFs, which is a transient phenomenon with a clear correlation with an initiating stimulus such as immunization or exposure to an infection. Here we demonstrate a difference in the regulatory control of total Ig and RF production by peripheral blood (PB) B cells of both healthy controls (HC) and patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Highly purified B cells from HC and patients with RA were cocultured with T cells stimulated with immobilized anti-CD3 mAb. Similar to IgM production, IgM-RF production was shown to be dependent on CD40 cross-linking. However, activation of PB B cells in the CD40 system in the presence of IL-2, IL-4, IL-10, combinations of these cytokines or supernatant of anti-CD3-stimulated T cells failed to induce detectable IgM-RF, whereas total IgM production was considerable. From these results we conclude that conditions to activate physiological RF(+) B cells require additional contact besides CD40--CD40L interactions between T and B cells. Since the requirements for RF production were similar using PB B cells from HC and patients with RA it is suggested that the regulatory properties of RF(+) precursors in the PB B cell compartment is equal among these groups. Together, these results indicate that conditions for the induction of total Ig and physiological RFs are different.