T cells may be activated either by the antigen-specific T cell receptor (TCR)-CD3 complex or the cell surface receptor CD2. A natural ligand for CD2 has been found to be lymphocyte function-associated antigen 3 (LFA-3), a widely distributed cell surface glycoprotein. To investigate the interaction of these two pathways, we have expressed the cDNA encoding the human CD2 molecule in a murine T cell hybridoma that produces IL-2 in response to HLA-DR antigens. Expression of the CD2 molecule markedly enhances IL-2 production in response to LFA-3+ antigen-bearing stimulator cells, and this stimulation is inhibited by anti-CD2 and anti-LFA-3 mAb. To further define the role of LFA-3 in antigen-dependent T cell activation, we have studied the ability of the purified ligands of CD2 and the TCR to stimulate the hybridoma. Neither liposomes containing purified HLA-DR antigens nor liposomes containing purified LFA-3 were able to stimulate the parent or the CD2+ hybridoma. However, liposomes containing both purified LFA-3 and HLA-DR, the physiological ligands for CD2 and the TCR, respectively, stimulate IL-2 production by the CD2+ but not the parent hybridoma, suggesting that complementary interactions between the TCR-CD3 complex and the CD2 pathway may regulate lymphocyte activation. To determine whether the CD2/LFA-3 interaction participates in cell-cell adhesion and provides an activation signal, we have constructed a cytoplasmic deletion mutant of CD2, CD2 delta B, in which the COOH-terminal 100 amino acids of CD2 have been replaced with a serine. Hybridomas expressing the CD2 delta B molecule were examined. Deletion of the cytoplasmic domain of CD2 did not alter binding of LFA-3 but eliminated the ability of CD2 to increase the response of the hybridoma to liposomes containing both HLA-DR and LFA-3, demonstrating that adhesion of LFA-3 to CD2 alone was insufficient for activation, and that the cytoplasmic domain was required for LFA-3 stimulation through the CD2 molecule. T cells may be activated by purified LFA-3 binding to CD2 and the TCR interacting with its ligand, and these signals appear to be synergistic for the T cell. These results suggest that the CD2/LFA-3 interaction not only plays a role in cell-cell adhesion but provides a stimulatory signal for T cell activation.