Helper T cell activation leads to transient expression of a ligand for the B cell surface protein, CD40. CD40 ligand can deliver helper T cell-derived contact signals to B lymphocytes that drive B cell activation and proliferation. Regulation of expression of CD40 ligand is analogous to that of other helper T cell-derived lymphokines. A soluble form of CD40 ligand is capable of delivering proliferative signals to B cells only when cross-linked or when IL-4 is added. Recombinant CD40 ligand in membrane vesicles can be used to develop in vitro systems for studying class switching, clonal selection, and affinity maturation in normal B lymphocytes.