In this study, we show that IL-10 enhances in vitro the viability of purified splenic B cells. There was a two- to threefold increase in recovery of viable cells during a 15-d culture period in the presence of IL-10. This effect was abolished by neutralizing antibodies to IL-10. The survival of large splenic B cells, which mostly represent follicular center cells, was similarly increased. The in vitro rescue from spontaneous death of the latter cells is known to involve a bcl-2-dependent pathway. We therefore investigated whether IL-10 might affect bcl-2 expression. Unseparated B cells as well as large splenic B cells displayed a strong expression of bcl-2 protein by immunofluorescence at days 2-7 of culture in the presence of IL-10. Other lymphokines such as IL-2 and IL-4 were able to trigger only a transient and faint expression of bcl-2; moreover, this effect was abolished by anti-IL-10 mAb. Inasmuch as activated B cells can produce their own IL-10, this lymphokine may play a crucial role in relieving from apoptosis those B cells that encounter their antigen in B cell follicles.