Antigen-activated peripheral blood B cells were induced by parenteral immunization of healthy individuals with a polyvalent pneumococcal vaccine, or diphtheria toxoid. Seven to nine days after immunization, high frequencies of antigen-specific antibody-secreting cells, representing in vivo activated lymphoblastoid B cells, were detectable in peripheral blood or spleen. The B cellenriched fractions were stimulated for 7 days with different concentrations of rhIL-6. Both the frequency of antibody-secreting cells and the secreted amount of antibody to the immunizing antigen were increased by rhIL-6 in a dose-dependent fashion. Stimulation with rhIL-6 did not alter the isotype distribution of antibody-secreting cells. A polyclonal anti-IL-6 serum completely abrogated the stimulatory effect of rhIL-6 on the in vitro antibody secretion. Fluorescence-activated cell sorter analysis revealed that 25-29% of cells in the large B cell fraction which presumably contained the in vivo activated cells bore the IL-6 receptor. Thus, rhIL-6 enhances the terminal differentiation of in vivo activated B cells into antibody-secreting plasma cells. © 1991.