CD40 is an integral membrane protein found on the surface of B lymphocytes, dendritic cells, follicular dendritic cells, hematopoietic progenitor cells, epithelial cells, and carcinomas. It is a 45-50 kDa glycoprotein of 277 aa, which is a member of the tumor necrosis factor receptor superfamily. The CD40 gene maps to human chromosome 20q11-2-q13-2. CD40 binds to a ligand (CD40-L) which is an approximately 35 kDa glycoprotein of 261 aa, a member of the tumor necrosis factor superfamily. The CD40-L gene maps to human chromosome Xq24. This CD40-L is expressed on activated T cells, mostly CD4+ but also some CD8+ as well as basophils/mast cells. The CD40-L is defective in the X-linked hyper-IgM syndrome. Cross-linking of CD40 with immobilized anti-CD40 or cells expressing CD40-L induces B cells to proliferate strongly, and addition of IL-4 or IL-13 allows the generation of factor-dependent long-term normal human B cell lines and the secretion of IgE following isotype switching. Addition of IL-10 results in very high immunoglobulin production with limited cell proliferation. IL-10 induces naive B cells to produce IgG3, IgG1, and IgA1, and further addition of TGF beta permits the secretion of IgA2. Several evidences suggest that CD40-dependent activation of B cells is important for the generation of memory B cells within the germinal centers: (i) CD40 activated germinal center B cells cultured in the presence of IL-4 acquire a memory B cell phenotype, (ii) CD40 activated B cells can undergo isotype switching, (iii) the deficit of CD40-L results in the hyper-IgM syndrome characterized by lack of germinal centers in secondary lymphoid organ follicles and lack of IgG, IgA, and IgE, and (iv) CD40-L positive T cells are present in secondary follicles. Thymic epithelial cells, activated monocytes, and dendritic cells express CD40 antigen which may be involved in an enhanced cytokine production by these cells, allowing an amplification of T cell proliferation. Finally, as other members of the tumor necrosis factor receptor family have been shown to bind several ligands, it is possible that CD40 may bind other ligands that may trigger CD40 on different cell types such as hematopoietic cells or epithelial cells.