An important and yet unresolved question concerns the mode of T cell recognition of idiotypic epitopes on immunoglobulin molecules in humans. Results from murine and human studies show that some idiotype-specific T cells recognize conformational epitopes on immunoglobulin, and such T cells are not MHC-restricted. In the present study T cell stimulation induced by idiotypic determinants on the autologous monoclonal IgG (M-components) from patients with monoclonal gammopathies was studied. In parallel, T cell stimulation in response to a conventional antigen, purified protein derivative, was also examined. It is shown that, as with conventional antigen, idiotype-induced T cell stimulation requires the presence of antigen-presenting cells (APC; monocytes and/or B cells), and is MHC class II (DR)-restricted. B cells, but not monocytes, can present idiotypic determinants to T cells at very low antigen concentrations, while monocytes do so only when antigen is present at high concentrations. Antigen processing and presentation is abrogated by treatment of APC with chloroquine. In conclusion, our study demonstrates that human idiotype-specific T cells recognize processed idiotypic determinants presented by MHC class II (HLA-DR) molecules on APC, and that B cells require about 1000-fold less antigen that monocytes.