Cross-linking of CD8 and HLA class I molecules with appropriate monoclonal antibodies (mAb) and goat anti-mouse Ig (GaMIg) antibody resulted in a marked proliferation of resting human CD8 cells in the presence of interleukin-2 (IL-2). These cells also expressed IL-2 receptor (IL-2R), transferrin receptor, HLA-DR and -DQ antigens. Activation of the cross-linked CD8 cells is apparently independent of accessory monocytes. Various anti-CD8 and anti-HLA class I mAb recognizing nonpolymorphic antigenic determinants were examined for the efficacy of activating CD8 cells. Among mAb specific for HLA class I molecules, PA2.6, MB40.5, BB7.7, A1.4, and W6/32 mAb markedly stimulated the proliferation of cross-linked CD8 cells, whereas BBM.1, Q1/28, and HC10 mAb were found inactive. Footprinting analysis of HLA class I molecules suggested that the activity of these anti-HLA class I mAb appeared to be related to the corresponding peptides they protect from enzymatic digestion. In contrast to the anti-HLA class I mAb, all anti-CD8 mAb examined (C8, OKT8A, and anti-Leu-2a) induced the proliferation of CD8-HLA class I cross-linked cells with similar efficacy. These results suggest that physical interaction between CD8 and at least one specific region of HLA class I molecules can trigger the activation of resting human CD8 cells.