Previously, we and others have demonstrated that CD4-deficient mice have a normal number of T cells and B cells with a significant population of CD4-8-TcR alpha beta+ T cells. Surprisingly, however, these mice lacking CD4 show in vivo immunoglobulin isotype class switching from IgM to IgG in response to sheep erythrocytes and vesicular stomatitis virus. In this study we have depleted various subpopulations of T cells in vivo and shown that the population of CD4-8-TcR alpha beta+ T cells is responsible for providing "help" in the antibody response of CD4-deficient mice to vesicular stomatitis virus infection. We have used antigen-specific proliferation assays and blocking studies with class I and II major histocompatibility complex (MHC)-specific purified antibodies to show that these cells are class II MHC-restricted in responses against the T cell-dependent antigen keyhole limpet hemocyanin (KLH). Finally, phenotypic analysis of the CD4-CD8- thymocytes in CD4-deficient mice shows that these cells have a more mature phenotype than the CD4-8- thymocytes in wild type mice. These results indicate that CD4 is not absolutely necessary for positive selection or effector function of class II MHC-restricted helper T cells.