Northern blot analysis and a highly sensitive methodology for mRNA phenotyping, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), were used to explore the basis for the synergism between CD3/alpha beta T cell receptor (TCR) and the CD2 antigen-derived signals in promoting proliferation of T cells. Northern blotting of RNA isolated from highly purified normal human T cells revealed that crosslinking of anti-TCR-1 (a mAb directed at a framework determinant of the TCR) and OKT11 (a mAb directed at the SRBC-binding epitope of the CD2 antigen) induced the expression of the interleukin-2 gene and the gene for IL-2 receptor alpha, mRNA phenotyping by PCR revealed that crosslinkage of TCR with the CD2 antigen, and not independent crosslinking of TCR or the CD2 antigen, results in the induction of IL-2, IL-2 receptors alpha and beta, and IL-4-specific transcripts. Highly purified CD4+ T cells, as well as CD8+ T cells proliferated by crosslinking TCR with CD2 antigen. Moreover, crosslinkage of TCR with the CD2 antigen and not of either antigen with the CD4 antigen (on the surface of CD4+ T cells) or the CD8 antigen (on the surface of CD8+ T cells) resulted in marked proliferation. Our demonstration that the CD2 antigen-derived signal(s) contribute to the expression of growth promoting genes elicited via the TCR, and that the CD2 antigen is more efficient compared with the CD4 or CD8 antigen in evoking T cell proliferation, suggests that autoimmunity as well as alloimmunity might be regulated by targeting the CD2 antigen.