CD23 gene is overexpressed and abnormally regulated in the most frequent adult leukemic disorder, B chronic lymphocytic leukemia (B- CLL). Switch on and off in the upregulation of surface CD23 expression consistently occurs in the early stage of normal B-cell activation, suggesting a key role for CD23 in this process. We show here that, after ligation of mlg in the presence of interleukin-4, the increase of CD23 protein precedes B-cell DNA synthesis and mainly results from the strong induction of CD23 type-B isoform. Exposure of normal B cells to conventional or phosphorothioate-derivatized CD23 antisense oligonucleotides (predominantly type B) significantly augments B-cell proliferation induced by antigen receptor stimulation or direct contact with activated T cells. Unexpectedly, CD23 antisense, but not sense, oligonucleotides specifically enhance rather than suppress CD23 expression on B cells. Finally, a selective increase in CD23 type-B expression provokes the entry of resting (Go) CLL B cells into G1 and S phase of the cell cycle in the absence of any other stimulus, whereas it synergizes with tumor necrosis factor-alpha to increase the number of activated B cells. These results provide compelling evidence that CD23 represents an important molecule directly involved in the process of normal or leukemic B-cell activation and growth.