The cytokine IL-7 and its receptor are essential for normal B and T lymphopoiesis. We have analyzed the role of this receptor in B cell development throughout ontogeny in IL-7 receptor alpha-deficient mice. We demonstrate that the IL-7 receptor becomes progressively more important with age. B lymphopoiesis takes place, albeit at reduced levels, in fetal liver and bone marrow of young mice, but is arrested in adults. The outcome is a severe reduction, from an early age, in peripheral B cells including follicular, marginal zone and B-1 B cells as well as perturbed splenic B cell structures, which are restored after adoptive transfer of normal spleen cells. We conclude that in the absence of the IL-7 receptor, the residual B lymphopoiesis occurring early in ontogeny must be facilitated by another component, whereas the IL-7 receptor is the key factor in adults. The impairment of marginal zone and B-1 B cells in IL-7 receptor- but not IL-7-deficient mice suggests non-redundant functions for the IL-7 receptor ligands, IL-7 and thymic stromal lymphopoietin.