We analyzed the accessory function of malignant B cells from non-Hodgkin's lymphomas (NHLs). Among the 70 samples of malignant B cells included, four patterns of expression of the costimulatory molecules CD80 and CD86 were distinguished (+/+, +/-, -/+ and -/-). In two-thirds of the cases, CD80, CD86, or both were expressed. To investigate the relevance of these molecules for tumor immunogenicity, mixed lymphocyte reactions (MLR) were performed with allogeneic responding T cells and malignant B cells from nine NHL patients. Regardless of the level of expression of CD80 and CD86, significant proliferation was induced in the responder cells. The addition of monoclonal antibodies directed against CD80 and CD86 at the beginning of MLR almost completely inhibited this proliferation. We show that, during MLR, a high level of expression of CD80 and CD86 was induced in NHL B cells. Thus, cooperation between responding and stimulator cells seems to occur during MLR, allowing induction of optimal accessory function of B cells. We investigated whether malignant B cells cultured with CD40-L-transfected L cells in the presence of IL-4 could augment their antigen-presenting cell (APC) functions. The culture of NHL B cells in this sytem induced strong upregulation of the expression of CD80 and CD86 as well as other molecules involved in accessory cell functions (HLA class I, CD54, and CD58). In half of the cases, this activation resulted in enhanced proliferation of allo-T cells as compared to the proliferation induced by nonactivated malignant B cells. Our results show that NHL B cells are able to express functional CD80 and CD86 and to be fully competent APC. This suggests that the absence of an efficient T cell-mediated antitumor response in vivo is not related to a deficiency in the APC functions of malignant B cells.