Previous work has established that the dendritic cells (DC) of mouse spleen regulate the IL-2 production, and hence the extent of proliferation, of the CD8 T cells they activate. It is now reported here that interaction of primary CD8 T cells with splenic CD8alpha- DC induced much higher production of IL-3, IFN-gamma and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), as well as IL-2, than did interaction with CD8alpha+ splenic DC. Furthermore, the CD8alpha- DC also induced higher levels of IL-2, IL-3 and IL-10 production in primary CD4 T cells, compared with that induced by CD8alpha+ DC. These quantitative differences did not involve qualitative shifts in the type of cytokine produced. Interleukin-4 production remained low in all the primary T cell cultures and restimulation experiments in secondary cultures did not reveal any bias in the cytokine production profile. When exogenous IL-2 was added to the primary cultures to ensure equal proliferation in response to CD8alpha- or CD8alpha+ DC, the higher level of production of IL-3, IFN-gamma and GM-CSF induced by CD8alpha- DC was maintained. Thus, this general control of T cell cytokine production by splenic DC involves factors additional to those that govern activation of T cells into cell cycle.