Tyrosine phosphorylation of proteins plays a central role in T cell activation. Mitogens or anti-receptor antibodies have been employed to study these signaling events, but the extent to which these mimic receptor interactions with native ligands is unclear. Cytotoxic T lymphocytes can be activated for functional responses using purified, native class I ligands presented on a surface. Previous work showed that stimulation with fluid-phase anti-T cell receptor (TCR) monoclonal antibody (mAb) activates CD8 to mediate adhesion to class I proteins and that activated CD8 generates a co-stimulatory signal upon binding to class I. Changes in tyrosine phosphorylation of substrates and activity of the p56lck kinase have now been examined in this two-step process. The observed changes are small in comparison to those found using more potent nonphysiological stimuli, but may more accurately reflect the events required for activation of functional responses. Fluid-phase anti-TCR mAb caused increased tyrosine phosphorylation of a discrete subset of cellular substrates. Increased phosphorylation of additional substrates occurred upon CD8 binding to class I, resulting in a phosphorylation pattern comparable to that found in cells stimulated with class I alloantigen. Anti-TCR mAb alone caused increased tyrosine phosphorylation of p56lck. When CD8 bound to class I, phosphorylation of p56lck decreased to below the basal level found in unstimulated cells, accompanied by a substantial increase in kinase activity. These results are consistent with the two-step model for TCR activation of CD8/class I interactions and directly demonstrate that CD8 binding to class I leads to up-regulation of p56lck activity.