Rel and nuclear factor (NF)-κB1, two members of the Rel/NF-κB transcription factor family, are essential for mitogen-induced B cell proliferation. Using mice with inactivated Rel or NF-κB1 genes, we show that these transcription factors differentially regulate cell cycle progression and apoptosis in B lymphocytes. Consistent with an increased rate of mature B cell turnover in naive nfkb1(-/-) mice, the level of apoptosis in cultures of quiescent nfkb1(-/-), but not c-rel(-/-), B cells is higher. The failure of c-rel(-/-) or nfkb1(-/-) B cells to proliferate in response to particular mitogens coincides with a cell cycle block early in G1 and elevated cell death. Expression of a bcl-2 transgene prevents apoptosis in resting and activated c-rel(-/-) and nfkb1(-/-) B cells, but does not overcome the block in cell cycle progression, suggesting that the impaired proliferation is not simply a consequence of apoptosis and that Rel/NF-κB proteins regulate cell survival and cell cycle control through independent mechanisms. In contrast to certain B lymphoma cell lines in which mitogen-induced cell death can result from Rel/NF-κB-dependent downregulation of c-myc, expression of c- myc is normal in resting and stimulated c-rel(-/-) B cells, indicating that target gene(s) regulated by Rel that are important for preventing apoptosis may differ in normal and immortalized B cells. Collectively, these results are the first to demonstrate that in normal B cells, NF-κB1 regulates survival of cells in G0, whereas mitogenic activation induced by distinct stimuli requires different Rel/NF-κB factors to control cell cycle progression and prevent apoptosis.