Human intestinal lamina propria plasma cells are considered to be the progeny of chronically stimulated germinal centers located in organized gut-associated lymphoid tissues such as Peyer's patches and isolated lymphoid follicles. We have sampled human colonic lamina propria plasma cells and naive and memory B cell subsets from human Peyer's patches by microdissection of immunohistochemically stained tissue sections and used PCR methods and sequence analysis to compare IgVlambdaJlambda rearrangements in the plasma cell and B cell populations. Rearrangements that were either in-frame or out-of-frame between V and J were compared. Usage of IgVlambda families in the in-frame rearrangements from the plasma cells resembled that observed in the mantle cells, suggesting that antigenic selection for cellular specificity does not dramatically favor any particular Vlambda segment. However, in marked contrast, out-of-frame rearrangements involving Vlambda1 and Vlambda2 families are rarely observed in intestinal plasma cells, whereas rearrangements involving Vlambda5 are increased. This resulted in significantly biased ratios of in-frame:out-of-frame rearrangements in these Vlambda families. Out-of-frame rearrangements of IgVlambdaJlambda from plasma cells, including those involving the Vlambda5 family, have a significant tendency not to involve Jlambda1, consistent with the hypothesis that this population includes rearrangements generated by secondary recombination events. We propose that modification of out-of-frame rearrangements of IgVlambdaJlambda exists, probably a consequence of secondary rearrangements. This may be a mechanism to avoid translocations to susceptible out-of-frame IgVlambdaJlambda rearrangements during somatic hypermutation.