Mouse follicular B cells express TLR9 and respond vigorously to stimulation with single-stranded CpG-oligodeoxynucleotides (ODN). Surprisingly, follicular B cells do not respond to direct stimulation with other TLR9 ligands, such as bacterial DNA or class A(D) CpG-ODN capable of forming higher-order structures, unless other cell types are present. Here, we show that priming with interferons or with B cell-activating factor, or simultaneous co-engagement of the B cell receptor for antigen (BCR), can overcome this unresponsiveness. The effect of interferons occurs at the transcriptional level and is mediated through an autocrine/paracrine loop, which is dependent on IRF-1, IL-6 and IL-12 p40. We hypothesize that the lack of bystander activation of follicular B cells with more complex CpG ligands may be an important safety mechanism for avoiding autoimmunity. This will prevent resting B cells from responding to foreign or self-derived hypomethylated double-stranded CpG ligands unless these ligands are either delivered through the B cell receptor or under conditions where B cells are simultaneously co-engaged by activated plasmacytoid dendritic cells or TH1 cells. A corollary is that the heightened responsiveness of lupus B cells to TLR9-induced stimulation cannot be ascribed to unprimed follicular B cells, but is rather mediated by hypersensitive marginal zone B cells.