The mode of action by bystander helper T cells was investigated by priming (responder X nonresponder) (B6A)F1 T cells with poly-L-(Tyr, Glu)-poly-D,L-Ala--poly-L-Lys [(TG)-A--L] and titrating the ability of these cells to stimulate an anti-sheep red blood cell (SRBC) response of parental B cells and macrophages in the presence of (TG)-A--L. Under limiting T cell conditions, and in the presence of (TG)-A--L, (TG)-A--L-responsive T cells were able to drive anti-SRBC responses of high-responder C57BL/10.SgSn (B10) B cells and macrophages (M0), but not of low-responder (B10.A) B cells and M0. Surprisingly, the (TG)-A--L-driven anti-SRBC response of B10.A B cells was not restored by addition of high-responder acessory cells, in the form of (B6A)F1 peritoneal or irradiated T cell-depleted spleen cells, or in the form of B10 nonirradiated T cell-depleted spleen cells. These results suggested that (TG)-A--L-specific Ir genes expressed by B cells controlled the ability of these cells to be induced to respond to SRBC by (TG)-A--L-responding T cells, implying that direct contact between the SRBC-binding B cell precursor and the (TG)-A--L-responsive helper T cells was required. Analogous results were obtained for keyhold limpet hemocyanin (KLH)-driven bystander help using KLH-primed F1 T cells restricted to interact with cells on only one of the parental haplotypes by maturing them in parental bone marrow chimeras. It was hypothesized that bystander help was mediated by nonspecific uptake of antigen [(TG)-A--L or KLH] by SRBC-specific b cells and subsequent display of the antigen on the B cell surface in association with Ir of I-region gene products, in a fashion similar to the M0, where it was then recognized by helper T cells. Such an explanation was supported by the observation that high concentrations of antigen were required to elicit bystander help. This hypothesis raises the possibility of B cell processing of antigen bound to its immunoglobulin receptor and subsequent presentation of antigen to helper T cells.