The outcome of the signals transduced through the B cell antigen receptor (BCR) depends both on their maturational stage and on the extent of receptor cross-linking. It is established that the BCR-mediated apoptosis of immature B cells represents an important mechanism for tolerance induction in the pre-immune B cell compartment. We show here that mature germinal center (GC) B cells can re-acquire sensitivity to BCR-induced cell death following CD40 ligation. In contrast, neither virgin nor memory B cells become susceptible to antigen receptor-triggered apoptosis upon CD40 stimulation, suggesting that this phenomenon may play a role in the shaping of the mature B cell repertoire in GC. Our data reveal that the death signal evoked through the BCR does not involve the Fcgamma receptors, does not operate through the Fas/Fas ligand system, and can be blocked by interleukin-4. Finally, we found that the acquisition of sensitivity to the death-promoting effect of anti-Ig antibodies in CD40-stimulated GC B cell cultures correlates with the induction of a centrocytic phenotype. We propose that negative regulatory signals via the BCR may delete somatically mutated centrocytes with self-reactivity.