Ligation of cell surface major histocompatibility class I (MHC-I) proteins by antibodies, or by their native counter receptor, the CD8 molecule, mediates transduction of signals into the cells. MHC-I-mediated signaling can lead to both increased and decreased activity of the MHC-I-expressing cell depending on the fine specificity of the anti-MHC-I antibodies, the context of CD8 ligation, the nature and cell cycle state of the MHC-I-expressing cell and the presence or absence of additional cellular or humoral stimulation. This paper reviews the biochemical, physiological and cellular events immediately after and at later intervals following MHC-I ligation. It is hypothesized that MHC-I expression, both ontogenically and in evolution, is driven by a cell-mediated selection pressure advantageous to the MHC-I-expressing cell. Accordingly, in addition to their role in T-cell selection and functioning, MHC-I molecules might be of importance for the maintenance of cellular homeostasis not only within the immune system, but also in the interplay between the immune system and other organ systems.