The perspective that naive B-cell recognition of antigen in the absence of T-cell help causes cell death or anergy is supported by in vivo studies of B cells that are continuously exposed to self-antigens. However, intravital imaging suggests that early B-cell recognition of large foreign antigens may be transient. Whether B cells are tolerized or can be recruited into humoural immune responses following such encounters is not clear. Here we show that in the presence of T-cell help, single transient antigen acquisition is sufficient to recruit B cells into the germinal centre and induce memory and plasma cell responses. In the absence of T-cell help, transiently antigen-primed B cells do not undergo apoptosis in vivo; they return to quiescence and are recruited efficiently into humoural responses upon reacquisition of antigen and T-cell help.