In mice, primary footpad swelling after local infection with lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) and delayed-type hypersensitivity (DTH) adoptively transferred by LCMV immune lymphocytes are T-cell dependent. Nude mice do not develop primary footpad swelling, and T-cell depletion abrogates the capacity to transfer LCMV-specific DTH. Effector T cells involved in eliciting dose-dependent DTH are virus specific in that vaccinia virus-immune lymphocytes could not elicit DTH in LCMV-infected mice. The adoptive transfer of DTH is restricted to H-2K or H-2D compatible donor-recipient combinations. Distinct from the fowl-gamma-globulin DTH model, I-region compatibility is neither necessary nor alone sufficient. Whatever the mechanisms involved in this K- or D-region associated restriction in vivo, it most likely operates at the level of T-cell recognition of "altered self" coded in K or D. T cells associated with the I region (helper T cells and DTH-T cells to fowl-gamma-globulin) are specific for soluble, defined, and inert antigens. T cells associated with the K and D region (T cells cytotoxic in vitro and in vivo for acute LCMV-infected cells, DTH effector T cells, and anti-viral T cells) are specific for infectious, multiplying virus. The fact that T-cell specificity is differentially linked with the I region or with the K and D regions of H-2 may reflect the fundamental biological differences of these antigens. Although it cannot be excluded that separate functional subclasses of T-effector cells could have self-recognizers for different cell surface structures coded in I or K and D, it is more likely that the antigen parameters determine whether T cells are specific for "altered" I or "altered" K- or D-coded structures.