CD27 is a lymphocyte-specific member of the TNF/NGF-R family that is highly induced on T cells after TCR stimulation, primarily on lymphocytes belonging to the unprimed CD45RA+ subset. However, after prolonged activation both in vivo and in vitro, CD27 expression is gradually switched off. In search of physiologic signals that influence CD27 expression, we found that B cell lines can mediate down-regulation of CD27 surface expression on activated T cells via direct cell-to-cell contact and that preincubation of activated T cells with CD27 mAbs prevented this modulation. Based on these observations, we hypothesized that a ligand for CD27L is expressed on B cell lines and that ligand interaction would result in down-modulation of the molecule from the T cell surface. To identify this putative CD27L, mAbs were raised against the Burkitt cell line Ramos and screened for their ability to block down-modulation of CD27 on activated T cells. Using this approach, we isolated a mAb, designated 2F2, that inhibits CD27 down-regulation in a dose-dependent manner. We demonstrate that this mAb recognizes CD27L as it 1) reacted to mouse fibroblasts expressing the recently cloned CD27L, a novel surface-expressed member of the TNF gene family, and 2) prevented binding of a soluble CD27-Fc construct to a CD27L expressing cell line. Down-regulation of CD27 from the T cell surface by recombinant CD27L was shown to be at least partially caused by release of soluble CD27. The 2F2 mAb enabled us to begin to analyze the biochemical properties, tissue distribution, and function of the CD27L on human cells. From cell lysates of 125I surface-labeled Burkitt cells a complex immunoprecipitation pattern with dominant bands of 29, 55, and 122 to 127 kDa was obtained using the 2F2 mAb. Phenotypical analyses showed that freshly isolated lymphocytes lacked CD27L expression, but that expression of the molecule could be induced after in vitro stimulation of T and B cells. No expression was found on cells of the myeloid lineage or on endothelial cells. Finally, blocking of naturally expressed CD27L by the 2F2 mAb exerted a potent inhibitory effect on the proliferation of T cells in response to allogeneic B cells and PHA. The data presented in this paper identify CD27 and its ligand as potentially important structures involved in cellular interactions between T and B lymphocytes.