HLA class II molecules play pivotal roles in antigen presentation to CD4+ T cells. We investigated signaling via HLA-DR molecules expressed on CD4+ T cells. When HLA-DR or CD3 molecules on cloned CD4+ T cells were cross-linked by solid-phase mAbs, T cells proliferated, and this resulted in anergy. Whereas cross-linking of HLA-DR and CD3 resulted in secretion of the same levels of IFN-gamma and IL-8, secretion of IL-10 induced by cross-linking of HLA-DR was less than that induced by cross-linking of CD3 on CD4+ T cells. Interestingly, expression of p27(Kip1) but not p21(Cip1) increased after stimulation by either anti-HLA-DR or anti-CD3 mAb. This was indeed the case, when T cells were rendered anergic using a soluble form of antigenic peptide. In contrast, T cells stimulated by peptide-pulsed PBMC expressed little p27(Kip1). We propose that signaling via HLA-DR molecules on CD4+ T cells at least in part contributes to the induction of T cell anergy, through the upregulated expression of the p27(Kip1). The implication of our finding is that HLA-DR molecules play a role in human T cell anergy induced by a soluble form of antigenic peptide.