During T cell activation, CD4 and CD8 form a 'bridge' between the T cell receptor (TCR) and major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II and class I molecules, respectively. Due to this intimate association, CD4 and CD8 are now termed co-receptors and considered an integral part of this multimolecular complex. In addition, interest in CD4 has been heightened by the discovery that it is, in part, the receptor for HIV. Although CD4 and CD8 appear to perform similar immune functions, they are structurally diverse suggesting that their mode of interaction with the TCR and MHC molecules may differ. This review will focus primarily on a series of studies which have attempted to map the residues which mediate CD4:MHC class II interaction. These data will be evaluated in light of our current understanding of CD8:MHC class I, and CD4:TCR interactions. In addition, a model to explain the structural and functional differences between CD4 and CD8 will be presented. Finally, the potential effect of these multiple interactions on T cell function will be discussed.