To determine a regulatory function of natural antibodies in the immune response of chickens, pooled plasma obtained from non-immunized (naive) 15 months old hens was subjected to keyhole limpet hemocyanin (KLH) antigen-affinity chromatography. Purified KLH-binding antibodies were adoptively transferred intravenously to 5 weeks-old cocks that were subsequently immunized subcutaneously 24 h later with KLH. Control groups consisted of birds that were either adoptively transferred with KLH-binding antibodies purified from plasma of KLH-immunized chickens, or PBS, or a salt precipitated total immunoglobulin fraction obtained from the corresponding pooled naive chicken plasma, respectively. Total, IgM and IgY antibody titers to KLH in the plasma of recipients adoptively transferred with KLH-NAb, but not in the plasma of the groups transferred with salt precipitate or KLH-binding specific antibodies, were significantly enhanced as compared to the non-treated, KLH immunized group. Titers of IgA antibodies binding KLH were decreased in the plasma of the group that received specific KLH-binding antibodies, but not in the plasma of the other groups. Proliferation from peripheral blood leucocytes in whole blood from the KLH-NAb treated group, the group treated with KLH-binding specific antibodies and the group treated with salt precipitate, respectively, to both concanavalin A and KLH were significantly decreased as compared to the group receiving PBS. Our data show that antigen-specific antibodies can be isolated from plasma obtained from non-immunized chickens. Such antibodies that resemble natural antibodies as described in mammals may perform an important role in the enhancement of subsequent antigen-specific antibody responses or the maturation of the immune system, which may differ from the role of specific antibodies. (C) 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.