We have examined the role of the murine homologue of Leu-3 T4, L3T4, in recognition of antigen in association with products of the major histocompatibility complex (Ag/MHC) by murine T cell hybridomas. A series of ovalbumin (OVA)/I-Ad-specific T cell hybridomas were ranked in their sensitivity to Ag/I by measuring their ability to respond to low doses of OVA, or their sensitivity to inhibition by anti-I-Ad antibodies. T cell hybridomas with low apparent avidity for OVA/I-Ad, i.e. that did not respond well to low concentrations of OVA and were easily inhibited by anti-I-Ad, were also easily inhibited by anti-L3T4 antibodies. The reverse was true for T cell hybridomas with apparent high avidity for Ag/MHC. We found that the presence of low doses of anti-L3T4 antibodies caused T cell hybridomas to respond less well to low doses of Ag, and to be more easily inhibited by anti-I-Ad antibodies. These results suggested that the role of the L3T4 molecule is to increase the overall avidity of the reaction between T cells and Ag-presenting cells. In support of this idea was the discovery of several L3T4- subclones of one of our L3T4+ T cell hybridomas, D0.11.10. The L3T4- subclones had the same amount of receptor for OVA/I-Ad as their L3T4+ parent, as detected by an anti-receptor monoclonal antibody. The L3T4- subclones, however, responded less well to low doses of OVA, and were more easily inhibited by anti-I-Ad antibodies than their L3T4/ parent. These results showed that the L3T4 molecule was not required for surface expression of, or functional activity of, the T cell receptor for Ag/MHC. The L3T4 molecule did, however, increase the sensitivity with which the T cell reacted with Ag/MHC on Ag-presenting cells.