When L3T4+ cloned murine helper T lymphocytes (HTL) are stimulated with antigen or immobilized anti-T cell receptor (TCR) monoclonal antibodies (mAb) at concentrations which are optimal for proliferation, anti-L3T4 mAb inhibits activation as measured by proliferation and lymphokine production. Under similar conditions, IL 2-independent proliferation of Lyt-2+ cloned murine cytolytic T lymphocytes (CTL) stimulated by anti-TCR mAb is inhibited by anti-Lyt-2 antibodies. Proliferation of cloned HTL and CTL cells stimulated by IL 2 is not affected by the anti-L3T4 and anti-Lyt-2 mAb. The inhibition of TCR-induced activation of the T cell clones is not due to interference with the binding of the anti-TCR mAb. Stimulation of the TCR has been proposed to induce lymphokine secretion and proliferation by T cells through a pathway involving the activation of protein kinase C and the stimulation of an increase in the concentration of intracellular free calcium. However, proliferation of T cells stimulated by PMA (which activates protein kinase C) plus the calcium ionophore A23187 (which increases the concentration of intracellular free calcium) is not affected by mAb reactive with the Lyt-2 or L3T4 structures. If TCR stimulation does indeed activate T cells by activating protein kinase and increasing intracellular free calcium, then our data suggest that anti-L3T4 and anti-Lyt-2 mAb inhibit TCR-driven proliferation at some step before the activation of protein kinase C and the stimulation of a rise in intracellular free calcium concentration. Our results suggest that anti-L3T4 and anti-Lyt-2 mAb interfere with early biochemical processes induced by stimulation of the TCR. In HTL, which proliferate via an autocrine pathway, anti-L3T4 mAb appears to inhibit proliferation by interfering with signaling events involved in lymphokine production. Inhibition of IL 2-independent proliferation of Lyt-2+ cells by anti-Lyt-2 mAb appears to occur by a different mechanism. The precise molecular basis for the interference of each cell type has not yet been characterized.