The activation of Janus protein tyrosine kinases (JAKs) and signal transducer and activator of transcription (STAT) proteins by interleukin (IL)-2, the T cell antigen receptor (TCR) and interferon (IFN) alpha was explored in human peripheral blood-derived T cells and the leukemic T cell line Kit225. An IL-2-induced increase in JAK1 and JAK3, but not JAK2 or Tyk2, tyrosine phosphorylation was observed. In contrast, no induction of tyrosine phosphorylation of JAKs was detected upon stimulation of the TCR. IFN alpha induced the tyrosine phosphorylation of JAK1 and Tyk2, but not JAK2 or JAK3. IFN alpha activated STAT1, STAT2 and STAT3 in T cells, but no detectable activation of these STATs was induced by IL-2. However, IL-2 regulates the DNA binding and tyrosine phosphorylation of two STAT-like protein complexes which do not include STAT1, STAT2 or STAT3. STAT4 is not activated by IL-2. The activation of STAT5 cannot be excluded, so the IL-2-activated complexes most probably include at least one novel STAT. No STAT activity was detected in TCR-stimulated lymphocytes, indicating that the JAK/STAT pathway defined in this study constitutes an IL-2R-mediated signaling event which is not shared by the TCR. Finally, in other cell types the correlation between JAK1 activation and the induction of STAT1 has suggested that JAK1 may activate STAT1. The observation that IL-2 and IFN alpha activate JAK1 to a comparable degree, but only IFN alpha activates STAT1, indicates that JAK1 activation is not the only determining factor for STAT1 activation. Moreover, the data show that JAK1 stimulation is also not sufficient for STAT3 activation.