Human cluster-of-differentiation 1 (CD1) is a family of cell surface glycoproteins of unknown function expressed on immature thymocytes, epidermal Langerhans cells and a subset of B lymphocytes. Three homologous proteins, CD1a, b and c, have been defined serologically, and the CD1 gene locus on human chromosome 1 contains five potential CD1 genes. Analysis of the predicted amino-acid sequences of CD1 molecules reveals a low but significant level of homology to major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I and class II molecules, and, like MHC class I molecules, CD1 molecules are associated non-covalently with beta 2-microglobulin. These structural similarities to known antigen-presenting molecules, together with the expression of CD1 on cells capable of antigen presentation, suggest a role for CD1 molecules in antigen recognition by T cells. Here we demonstrate the specific recognition of CD1a by a CD4-CD8- alpha beta T-cell receptor (TCR) expressing cytolytic T lymphocyte (CTL) line and the specific recognition of CD1c by a CD4-CD8- gamma delta TCR CTL line. The interaction of CD1-specific CTLs with CD1+ target cells appeared to involve the CD3-TCR complex, and did not show evidence of MHC restriction. These results suggest that for a subset of T cells, CD1 molecules serve a function analogous to that of MHC class I and II molecules.