The glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI)-anchored CD59 protein (human protectin) protects cells against complement-induced lysis, binds to CD2 and also transduces activation signals within T cells. We have further examined the biochemical signals transduced by CD59 and addressed its role in regard to the CD3-mediated signaling cascade. We show here that CD59 cross-linking induces a time-dependent activation of p56lck and of p70zap (ZAP-70) in CD3-positive Jurkat cells, leading to the stimulation of the T cell receptor zeta/ZAP-70 signaling cascade and interleukin-2 (IL-2) synthesis. Cross-linking of CD59 on peripheral T cells and thymocytes induces tyrosine phosphorylations identical to those seen in Jurkat cells and this is followed by lymphokine production and proliferation. In contrast, only activation of CD59-associated p56lck occurs in CD3-negative Jurkat cells, while IL-2 production is impaired, consistent with the lack of ZAP-70 tyrosine phosphorylation observed in these cells. CD59 triggers activation events even in the absence of CD3/T cell receptor expression in Jurkat cells. CD59 cross-linking synergizes with sub-optimal doses of phorbol ester for activation of the protein kinase C and of the p42mapk, as shown by in vitro phosphorylation of histone HIIIS and myelin basic protein, respectively, and leads to CD25 but not CD69 expression. In conclusion, at least two signaling pathways are triggered through CD59, the first one involving ZAP-70 activation and leading to IL-2 secretion and a second pathway observed in the absence of ZAP-70 activation leading to CD25 expression. These two pathways are likely to be involved in the modulation of T cell activation by CD59 protein.