The CD94/NKG2C killer lectin-like receptor (KLR) specific for HLA-E is coupled to the KARAP/DAP12 adapter in a subset of NK cells, triggering their effector functions. We have studied the distribution and function of this KLR in T lymphocytes. Like other NK cell receptors (NKR), CD94/NKG2C was predominantly expressed by a CD8(+) T cell subset, though TCRgammadelta(+) NKG2C(+) and rare CD4(+) NKG2C(+) cells were also detected in some individuals. Coculture with the 721.221 HLA class I-deficient lymphoma cell line transfected with HLA-E (.221-AEH) induced IL-2Ralpha expression in CD94/NKG2C+ NK cells and a minor subset of CD94/NKG2C(+) T cells, promoting their proliferation; moreover, a similar response was triggered upon selective engagement of CD94/NKG2C with a specific mAb. CD8(+) TCRalphabeta CD94/NKG2C(+) T cell clones, that displayed different combinations of KIR and CD85j receptors, expressed KARAP/DAP12 which was co-precipitated by an anti-CD94 mAb. Specific engagement of the KLR triggered cytotoxicity and cytokine production in CD94/NKG2C(+) T cell clones, inducing as well IL-2Ralpha expression and a proliferative response. Altogether these results support that CD94/NKG2C may constitute an alternative T cell activation pathway capable of driving the expansion and triggering the effector functions of a CTL subset.