Three monoclonal antibodies (mAb), of IgG1, IgG2a, and IgM isotypes, raised against the T3 complex, were used to probe the activation of human T cells. The IgM antibody 235 was not mitogenic for peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PMC). It efficiently blocked the proliferation of PMC induced by T cell mitogens, alloantigens, and soluble antigens. The other two antibodies were mitogenic, and behaved similarly to Leu 4 and OKT3, respectively. In T cell preparations with less than 0.1% monocytes (as assayed by nonspecific esterase staining), all three mAb were not mitogenic. They failed to induce either interleukin 2 (IL-2) receptor expression or IL-2 secretion. Addition of IL-1 failed to collaborate with anti-T3 mAb to induce these T cells to proliferate, but IL-2 enhanced T cell proliferation slightly. Monocyte-depleted T cells, however, proliferated in response to all three anti-T3 mAb, when TPA was added, in a dose-dependent manner. TPA induced a low level of IL-2 receptor expression in monocyte-depleted T cells, without inducing IL-2 secretion. Anti-T3 plus TPA induced a marked enhancement in both quantity and intensity of IL-2 receptor expression. IL-2 secretion was also detected. These results indicate that anti-T3 IgM can deliver an inductive signal despite its blockage of T cell proliferation, and that two signals are necessary and perhaps sufficient to induce human T cell activation and proliferation.