The T cell-specific transmembrane glycoprotein CD4 interacts with class II MHC molecules via its external domain and is associated with tyrosine kinase p56lck via a cysteine motif in its cytoplasmic domain. We have assessed the ability of CD4 to synergize with the antigen-specific T cell receptor (TCR) for induction of transmembrane signals that result in lymphokine production. Mutant CD4 molecules were introduced into T cells that lacked endogenous CD4 but expressed TCRs specific for lysozyme peptides or the superantigen SEA bound to Ab or Abm12 class II MHC molecules. With either ligand, T cell activation occurred only when CD4 was associated with p56lck. These results demonstrate that residues within the cytoplasmic domain of CD4 are required for its coreceptor function in TCR-mediated signal transduction and strongly support the notion that the association of CD4 with p56lck is critical in this process.