Virgin T cells being primed to Th2-inducing or Th1-inducing Ags, respectively, start to synthesize IL-4 or IFN-gamma as they begin to proliferate. Parallel respective induction of B cells to produce gamma1 or gamma2a switch transcripts provides additional evidence of early divergent Th activity. This report concerns the roles of IL-4, IL-13, and B cells in these early events in vivo. Th2 responses were induced in lymph nodes against hapten-protein given s.c. with killed Bordetella pertussis adjuvant. In T cell proliferation in wild-type mice, IL-4 message up-regulation and gamma1 and epsilon switch transcript production were underway 48-72 h after immunization. The absence of IL-4, IL-13, or B cells did not alter the early T cell proliferative response. The gamma1 and epsilon switch transcript production was still induced in the absence of IL-4, IL-13, or both, but at a reduced level, while the dominance of switching to IgG1 in the extrafollicular hapten-specific plasma cell response was retained. The up-regulation of IL-4 message was not reduced or delayed in the absence of B cells and was only marginally reduced by the absence of IL-13. It is concluded that signals delivered by dendritic cells, which are not dependent on the presence of IL-4, IL-13, or B cells, can prime virgin T cells and induce the early Th2 activities studied. These early events that direct virgin T cells toward Th2 differentiation contrast with the critical later role of Th2 cytokines in selectively expanding Th2 clones and driving further IL-4 synthesis.