These experiments test the hypothesis that cells carrying the Ly1+23- surface phenotype are programmed exclusively for helper and not suppressive activity regardless of external conditions such as the mode or type of antigen stimulation. To this end, we have stimulated purified populations of Ly1 cells with antigen in vitro using conditions devised to induce unselected T cells to express optimal levels of antigen specific T-suppressor activity. We find that after such stimulation, Ly1 cells generate SRBC-specific T-helper activity but not T-suppressive activity. These findings establish that the Ly1.2+,2.2/3.2- surface phenotype is a stable, and probably invariant, marker of T cells that are programmed to express only helper activity and have lost the capacity to directly suppress the antibody response. These findings support the concept that the genetic program for a single differentiated set of cells combines information for cell surface phenotype and function. We also demonstrate that antigen-stimulated Ly1 cells, in addition to inducing B cells to secrete antibody, can induce or activate other sets of resting T cells to develop profound suppressive effects. The surface phenotype of this feedback suppressive T-cell set is shown to be: Ly1+2+3+Qa1+. These findings, taken together, indicate that activation of resting Ly123 cells by immune Ly1 TH cells may represent an important homeostatic immunoregulatory mechanism.