CD5+ B lymphocytes have been postulated to be primarily involved in autoantibody production. To investigate whether CD5 B lymphocytes from chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients display the same function, we fused B lymphocytes from 23 CD5+ B-CLL with nonsecreting murine myeloma X-63 cells. Hybrids were derived from 18 of the 23 patients, but only hybrids from 13 patients were found to secrete immunoglobulin (Ig) (IgM kappa 4, IgM lambda 8, and only kappa light chain 1). Supernatants of these hybrids were tested against an extensive panel of antigens by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, indirect immunofluorescence, and hemagglutination. At the same time, peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from 15 of these patients, including most patients from whom secreting hybrids had not been obtained, were stimulated with phorbol myristate acetate (PMA). Our results indicated that secreting heterohybrids from CLL B lymphocytes are frequently obtained; however, this is highly dependent on the light chain phenotype, since 8 of 9 lambda-expressing CLL produced hybrids secreting complete Igs, as compared with 4 of 12 kappa-expressing CLL. In addition, B lymphocytes of most patients from whom we failed to derive secreting hybrids also failed to secrete Ig on PMA stimulation. Secondly, CD5+ B-CLL lymphocytes were frequently committed to the production of natural autoantibodies, since in 8 of 15 cases (including hybrids and PMA stimulation) anti-Fc activity was found; three of these also displayed a multispecific binding pattern.