Previous studies have shown that CD5+ B cells predominate during development of the immune system and frequently secrete self-reactive antibodies, some of which appear to influence the development of the adult B cell repertoire. In addition, we now show that a high frequency of perinatally derived antibodies react with lymphocytes. Hybridomas derived from perinatal liver and splenic B cells and from spleens of adult BALB/c and C57BL/6 mice were screened by immunofluorescence on thymocytes. Anti-lymphocyte antibodies, all of the IgM isotype, were detected at a high frequency from perinatal fusions, but none were obtained from adult mice. These anti-lymphocyte mAbs were heterogeneous because they stained different subsets of peripheral T and B lymphocytes. Although the antigens recognized by these mAbs were heterogeneous with respect to their sensitivity to a variety of enzymes, 13 of the 19 mAbs recognized epitopes which were modulated by phosphatidylinositol-phosphollpase C treatment. Inhibition experiments suggested that six of these 13 mAbs shared the same molecular specificity, and that they recognized the same T cell subset (62% of CD4+ and 98% of CD8+ cells). Furthermore, three of these mAbs immunoprecipltated the same 100 kDa protein from thymocytes (70 kDa in reducing conditions). The related molecular specificity of some anti-lymphocyte mAbs was also reflected by their restricted V gene usage. Three of the five mAbs specific for the 100 kDa protein used very similar or identical germline SM7 VH genes. In addition to using the same germline D and JH genes, they also exhibited identical VH-D-JH joins, despite originating from distinct fusions. Analysis of light chains also showed some restriction by preferential use of germline V×4 and J×, 5 genes. Together, these results suggest that the restricted antibody repertoire characteristic of mouse fetal and neonatal B cells is also reflected in the production of anti-lymphocyte antibodies. These B cells appear consistently in early development, use germline V genes, and express a characteristic VH-D-JH join. © 1992 Oxford University Press.