The cure of human Hodgkin's tumors heterotransplanted into SCID mice can be achieved by two bispecific monoclonal antibodies (Bi-mAb) directed against the tumor-associated CD30 antigen and CD3 and CD28, respectively, and normal peripheral human blood T cells. We investigated the role of lymphocyte subsets and adhesion molecules in this Bi-mAb-mediated cytolysis. CD4+ lymphocytes were the most rapidly expanding subpopulation, but Bi-mAb-directed cytotoxicity was mediated preferentially by CD8+ lymphocytes and effector cells belonging to the CD45RO+ "memory" pool. Blocking of the LFA-1/ICAM-1 or CD2/LFA-3 adhesion pathways by mAb decreased Bi-mAb-mediated cytotoxicity. This was not due to inhibition of aggregate formation between Bi-mAb-coated T lymphocytes and target cells. Cross-linking of LFA-1 or CD2 molecules on lymphocytes prestimulated with Bi-mAb bound to CD3 and CD28 antigen lead to a more pronounced and prolonged rise in the intracellular concentration of free Ca2+. Additional CD2 cross-linking resulted in the tyrosine phosphorylation of distinct proteins. These findings indicate that adhesion molecules play a critical role and function as co-stimulatory signals rather than as cellular contact mediators in CD3 and CD28 Bi-mAb-stimulated T lymphocytes.