Chromosomal translocations of bcl-3 are associated with chronic B cell lymphocytic leukemias. Previously, we have shown that Bcl-3, a distinct member of the I kappa B family, may function as a positive regulator of NF-kappa B activity, although its physiologic roles remained unknown. To uncover these roles, we generated Bcl-3-deficient mice. Mutant mice, but not their littermate controls, succumb to T. gondii owing to failure to mount a protective T helper 1 immune response. Bcl-3-deficient mice are also impaired in germinal center reactions and T-dependent antibody responses to influenza virus. The results reveal critical roles for Bcl-3 in antigen-specific priming of T and B cells. Altered microarchitecture of secondary lymphoid organs in mutant mice, including partial loss of B cells, may underlie the immunologic defects. The implied role of Bcl-3 in maintaining B cells in wild-type mice may related to its oncogenic potential.