Costimulatory signals provided by T cells are required for B cells to produce specific antibody to T-dependent antigen. We have investigated the suitability of using the CD40 culture system for the proliferation and differentiation of Ag-specific human B cells using cytomegalovirus (CMV) or tetanus toxoid (TT) as antigen. We modified the CD40 culture system (CD32- transfected L cells, anti-CD40, and IL-4) by applying a sequential cytokine stimulation and compared total B-cell cultures with antigen-specific B cells preselected by panning. The detection of specific antibody became possible when antigen-selected B cells were cultured for 7 days in the CD40 system to induce clonal expansion, followed by the addition of IL-2 and IL10 for an additional 7 days to induce plasma-cell differentiation. We conclude that our intial inability to detect specific antibody in the CD40 system is due to overgrowth of nonspecific B cell clones and that selection of antigen-specific B cells by panning overcomes this problem. Induction of antigen-specific antibody production was found to be optimal when the initial contact with antigen during panning was limited to between 1 to 24 hours.