Germinal center formation is the result of antigenic stimulation of B cells in a T cell-rich area. B cells cycle through the germinal centers, and a small percentage survive to become plasma cells or memory B cells. The transformation from a mature B cell into a germinal center B cell and finally into a terminally differentiated B cell is not well understood. Human CD38 is highly expressed on both germinal center B cells and plasma cells, and is useful in delineating these B cell subsets and in understanding the signaling events involved in the development of these B cells. To determine whether CD38 expression on activated germinal center B cells and postgerminal center B cells influences germinal center differentiation, we studied the expression of CD38 in the mouse. CD38 is expressed on follicular B cells in the Peyer's patches but is down-regulated on germinal center B cells located within the Peyer's patches. CD38dim/-B220+ germinal center B cells are also found in the spleens of immunized but not control mice, suggesting that Ag-stimulated germinal center formation is involved in the production of CD38dim/-B220+ B cells. Furthermore, mature plasma cells isolated from in vitro LPS cultures do not express CD38, but do contain high levels of cytoplasmic Ig. These results are in contrast to studies in humans in which CD38 is not found on follicular B cells but is highly expressed on germinal center B cells and plasma cells.