In addition to macromolecular interactions that provide co-stimulation during antigen-presenting cell (APC) and CD4+ T-cell conjugation, covalent chemical events between specialized ligands have been implicated in T-cell co-stimulation. These take the form of transient Schiff base formation between carbonyls and amines expressed on APC and T-cell surfaces. Small Schiff base-forming molecules, such as tucaresol, can substitute for the physiological donor of carbonyl groups and provide co-stimulation to T cells, thereby functioning as orally active immunopotentiatory drugs. The Schiff base co-stimulatory pathway in T cells has been partially characterized in terms of changes in Na+ and K+ transport, and activation of the mitogen activated protein kinase (MAPK) ERK2. In the present study, the effects of Schiff base co-stimulation by tucaresol on the T-cell receptor (TCR)-dependent pathway leading to Ca2+ release were investigated. Schiff base co-stimulation by tucaresol was found to prime for enhanced TCR-dependent phospholipase C-gamma phosphorylation, inositol 1,4,5-triphosphate production, and Ca2+ mobilization that correlated with functional enhancement of interleukin-2 production in primary T cells. The effects on Ca2+ occurred comparably in Jurkat and primary CD4+ T cells responding to anti-CD3 monoclonal antibody. Enhancement of the Ca2+ response required a 10-min priming period and was prevented by prior covalent ligation of cell-surface free amino groups by sulpho-N-hydroxy succinimido-biotin; clofilium-mediated inhibition of tucaresol-induced changes in intracellular K+; and selective inhibition of the MAPK pathway. The data are consistent with a priming mechanism in which late co-stimulation-triggered events exert a positive influence on early TCR-triggered events. In additional studies of murine T cells expressing trans-gene TCRs, tucaresol was likewise shown to prime for enhanced Ca2+ mobilization in response to physiological TCR-engagement by MHC-peptide complexes.