B-cell tolerance to soluble protein self antigens such as hen egg lysozyme (HEL) is mediated by clonal anergy. Anergic B cells fail to mount antibody responses even in the presence of carrier-primed T cells, suggesting an inability to activate or respond to T helper cells. To investigate the nature of this defect, B cells from tolerant HEL/anti-HEL double-transgenic mice were incubated with a membrane preparation from activated T-cell clones expressing the CD40 ligand. These membranes, together with interleukin 4 and 5 deliver the downstream antigen-independent CD40-dependent B-cell-activating signals required for productive T-B collaboration. Anergic B cells responded to this stimulus by proliferating and secreting antibody at levels comparable to or better than control B cells. Furthermore, anergic B cells presented HEL acquired in vivo and could present the unrelated antigen, conalbumin, targeted for processing via surface IgD. In contrast, the low immunoglobulin receptor levels on anergic B cells were associated with reduced de novo presentation of HEL and a failure to upregulate costimulatory ligands for CD28. These defects in immunoglobulin-receptor-mediated functions could be overcome in vivo, suggesting a number of mechanisms for induction of autoantibody responses.