To investigate the potential of DNA to elicit immune responses in man, we examined the capacity of a variety of oligodeoxynucleotides (ODNs) to stimulate highly purified T cell-depleted human peripheral blood B cells. Among 47 ODNs of various sequences tested, 12 phosphorothioate oligodeoxynucleotides (sODNs) induced marked B cell proliferation and Ig production. IL-2 augmented both proliferation and production of IgM, IgG, and IgA, as well as IgM anti-DNA antibodies, but was not necessary for B cell stimulation. Similarly, T cells enhanced stimulation, but were not necessary for B cell activation. After stimulation with the active sODNs, more than 95% of B cells expressed CD25 and CD86. In addition, B cells stimulated with sODNs expressed all six of the major immunoglobulin VH gene families. These results indicate that the human B cell response to sODN is polyclonal. Active sODN coupled to Sepharose beads stimulated B cells as effectively as the free sODN, suggesting that stimulation resulted from engagement of surface receptors. These data indicate that sODNs can directly induce polyclonal activation of human B cells in a T cell-independent manner by engaging as yet unknown B cell surface receptors.