The T11 sheep erythrocyte binding glycoprotein [relative molecular mass (Mr)50,000(50K)] is expressed throughout human T-lymphocyte ontogeny and appears to play an important physiological role in T-cell activation. Thus, the treatment of T cells with certain monoclonal anti-T11 antibodies results in antigen-independent polyclonal T-cell activation as assessed by proliferation and lymphokine secretion. In addition, the majority of thymocytes that have not yet acquired the T3-Ti antigen/major histocompatibility complex (MHC) receptor can be activated to express interleukin-2 (IL-2) receptors through this T11 structure. We show here that the triggering of cytolytic T (Tc) cells via T11 causes an antigen-independent activation of the cytolytic mechanism as evidenced by the induction of nonspecific cytolytic activity. Furthermore, T11+T3-Ti- natural killer (NK) cell clones can also be induced to lyse NK-cell-resistant targets by treatment with anti-T11 monoclonal antibodies directed at defined T11 epitopes. These results indicate that T11 triggering can activate cytotoxic lymphocytes to express their functional programmes in the absence of specific antigen recognition via the T3-Ti complex and provide further evidence for the notion that certain NK cells and T lymphocytes are related.