Spleen cells from the C3H/HeJ mouse strain cannot be stimulated by many smooth-type lipopolysaccharides (LPSs), and by the main biologically-active region (lipid A) of these molecules. The genetic origin of this defect (expression of the mutant allele Lpsd at the chromosome 4 locus) was established over 20 years ago, but its biochemical nature has remained undefined. Several investigators have noted, however, that some particular LPSs can bypass this defect, and stimulate the proliferation of C3H/HeJ B lymphocytes. In this study we compare the mitogenic activities of the LPSs isolated from a wild strain (1414) and from a mutant 'rough' strain (A100) of Bordetella pertussis. Both LPS-1414 and LPS-A100 were mitogenic for C3H/HeJ spleen cells, but their lipid A fragments were not. This indicates that a carbohydrate structure proximal to lipid A is involved in the mitogenic activity. However, the isolated polysaccharides were not mitogenic. Four sugars are common to both LPS-1414 and LPS-A100: an heptose, and three sugars bearing free amino groups. After removal of these four sugars from the LPSs by nitrous acid treatment, the recovered lipooligosaccharides were not mitogenic in Lpsd spleen cells. The results suggest that substructures present in lipid A and in this group of four sugars are both required for induction of a mitogenic effect in Lpsd splenocytes, whereas lipid A alone can stimulate Lpsn spleen cells.