Protective immunity requires a diverse, polyclonal B cell repertoire. We demonstrate that affinity maturation of the humoral response to a hapten is impaired when preexisting clonally restricted cells recognizing the hapten are dominant in the B cell repertoire. B1-8i(+/-) mice, which feature a high frequency of B cells with nitrophenyl (NP)-binding specificity, respond to NP-haptenated proteins with the production of NP-specific Abs, but affinity maturation is impaired due to insufficient generation of high-affinity Ab-producing cells. We manipulated the frequency of NP-specific B cells by adoptive transfer of B1-8 B cells into naive, wild-type recipients. Remarkably, when 10(4) B1-8 B cells were transferred, these cells supported efficient affinity maturation and plasma cell differentiation. In contrast, when 10(6) B1-8 cells were transferred, affinity maturation did not occur. These data indicate that restricting the frequency of clonally related B cells is required to support affinity maturation.