Culture of Peyer's patch (PP) B cells with interleukin-6 (IL-6) for 7 days results in a six- to eightfold increase in secretion of IgA, while little or no increase in IgM or IgG secretion occurs in these cultures. Further, greater than 80% of IgA is produced within the first 72 h of culture. Using a sensitive enzyme-linked immunospot (ELISPOT) assay, we have shown that culture of PP B cells with IL-6 for 24 h gave increased IgA spot-forming cells (SFC) (4- to 6-fold) even though secreted IgA, as measured by RIA, had only increased 1.6- to 2.0-fold. In addition, significant increases in IgA SFC numbers could be demonstrated as early as 4 h after addition of IL-6. The increase in IgA secretion was not the result of IL-6-induced B-cell proliferation, since culture of B cells with IL-6 resulted in no increase in [3H]thymidine incorporation compared to untreated controls. This was supported by studies with mitomycin C which, when added to B cell cultures, had no effect on the IL-6-induced increase in numbers of IgA SFC. Increased IgA secretion was totally abolished by actinomycin D, an inhibitor of RNA transcription, showing that continued production of α mRNA is essential for IL-6-induced IgA secretion. Separation of PP B cells into peanut agglutin (PNA)Hi (germinal center [GC]) and PNALo (non-GC) subpopulations before culture with IL-6 showed that only PNALo B cells transcribe increased levels of α mRNA message and secrete high levels of IgA in response to this cytokine. Although the GC are the site of B-cell proliferation and presumably of switching to IgA and contain 70 to 85% of sIgA+ B cells in the PP, these PNAHi B cells do not respond to IL-6. This suggests that memory sIgA+ B cells in PP express IL-6 receptor (IL-6R) and respond to this cytokine with rapid differentiation into plasma cells that secrete IgA. © 1991.