Restricted usage of V(H) genes is observed in rabbit B lymphocytes and in human and murine CD5 B lymphocytes. This observation raised the possibility that most rabbit B lymphocytes were CD5+. To investigate this we cloned the CD5 gene from a rabbit cosmid library, using a probe derived from human CD5 cDNA. The rabbit CD5 gene was transfected into a murine T cell line and then we used the transfectants to develop anti-rabbit CD5 mAb. By Western blot analysis, the mAb reacted with a 67-kDa protein in lysates prepared from mesenteric lymph node and spleen cells. We determined the frequency of CD5+ B lymphocytes in peripheral lymphoid tissues of adult rabbits by two-color immunofluorescence analysis using anti-CD5 mAb and anti-L chain antibodies. The analysis showed that essentially all peripheral B lymphocytes in adult rabbits express CD5. The observation that CD5 is expressed on nearly all rabbit B lymphocytes contrasts markedly to mouse and human, where only a small number of B lymphocytes express CD5. We propose that most peripheral B lymphocytes in rabbit, as in chicken, develop early in ontogeny and are maintained throughout life by a self-renewing process.