CpG-containing oligodeoxynucleotides (CpG-ODN) act as powerful adjuvant during in vivo induction of T cell responses. While CpG-ODN directly activate antigen-presenting cells (APC) and thus exert an extrinsic activity on T cells, it is unclear whether they directly affect T cells (intrinsic activity). Here we analyze the effects of CpG-ODN on T cells in an APC-free cell culture. We report that CpG-ODN co-stimulate T cells provided they were triggered via their TCR. CpG-ODN induced IL-2 production, IL-2 receptor expression and thus proliferation. Proliferation was blocked by cyclosporin A or anti-IL-2 monoclonal antibodies (mAb) but not by anti-IL-4 mAb. Moreover, CpG-co-stimulated T cells differentiated into cytolytic T lymphocytes in vitro. Of note, IL-2-driven growth of primed T cells was not affected by CpG-ODN. Co-stimulation was also operative in T cells from CD28-/- mice and in TCR-transgenic T cells stimulated with peptide. CpG-ODN-mediated co-stimulation of T cells in vitro may thus explain part of the potent adjuvant effects of CpG-ODN in vivo.