In four different systems it was shown that murine delayed-type hypersensitivity (DTH) responses at 18-48 h were preceded by early 2-h responses. CBA mice immunized with picryl chloride, BDF1 mice immunized with oxazolone, BALB/c mice immunized with dinitrofluorobenzene, and C57BL/6 mice immunized with L5178Y lymphoma cells, and challenged with the appropriate specific antigen, all gave rise to expected 18-48 h delayed-in-time hypersensitivity reactions, but all of these responses were preceded by early hypersensitivity reactions that peaked at 2 h. These early 2-h reactions are transferable with T cells or with a T cell-derived, antigen-binding factor and are antigen-specific. The early and late components of DTH reactions are mast cell dependent since neither are elicited in mast cell deficient W/Wv or Sl/Sld mice. The T cell activity mediating the early component of DTH is demonstrable as early as 24 h after immunization, while the classical late component of DTH is not demonstrable until days 3-4. The difference in onset after immunization of the early and late components of DTH, and the different kinetics of these components in recipients of cell transfers that were challenged immediately or 24 h after transfer, led to the hypothesis that immunization for DTH leads to rapid induction in lymphoid organs of a certain population of T cells to produce an antigen-binding factor. This factor sensitizes peripheral tissues, probably mast cells, and local challenge with appropriate antigen leads to mast cell activation and release of the vasoactive amine serotonin, resulting in increased permeability of the local vasculature. This allows other circulating antigen-specific T cells, which are induced later after immunization, to enter the tissues and interact with antigen, resulting in production of chemoattractant lymphokines that recruit accessory leukocytes such as monocytes and polymorphs to enter the tissues via gaps between endothelial cells. These inflammatory cells, that are recruited to the site via two different T cell activities, constitute the characteristic infiltrate of DTH responses. Identification of an early 2-h component of DTH that is T cell- and mast cell-dependent provides evidence that the tissue-sensitizing, antigen-binding, T cell factor probably functions in vivo in the early phases of DTH responses.