The characteristics of a novel T lineage-specific activation antigen, termed TLiSA1, are described. The antigen was detected with a mouse monoclonal antibody, LeoA1, that was raised against activated human T cells generated in mixed lymphocyte culture (MLC). The antigen became strongly expressed on T cells 48-72 h after stimulation with phytohemagglutinin, and retained expression on MLC-activated T cells after 10 d of culture. The antigen was absent from a range of human T, B, myeloid, fibroblast, and tumour cell lines, but was present on the surface of the interleukin 2 (IL-2)-dependent gibbon cell line MLA-144. Analysis of the antigen by sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis of immunoprecipitates obtained from activated human T cells demonstrated a broad band in the region of 70 kD, whereas precipitates obtained from MLA-144 revealed a single narrow band of 95 kD. The molecule was expressed with a maximum density of 66,000 copies per cell on the surface of MLC-activated T cell blasts, as assessed by Scatchard analysis. TLiSA1 was distinguished from the IL-2 receptor bound by the anti-Tac monoclonal antibody by demonstrating that the antigens did not comodulate or coprecipitate, and by constructing an IL-2-independent human T X T hybrid that expressed the TLiSA1 but not the Tac antigen. MLC with B lymphoblasts was used to generate cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) specific for the stimulating cell, and anomalous killer (AK) cells able to kill melanoma target cells. The presence of LeoA1 or F(ab')2 fragments of the antibody from the beginning of coculture did not affect proliferation in these cultures, but did inhibit the induction of both CTL and AK cells from their precursors. This inhibition of differentiation by LeoA1 was confirmed under conditions of limiting dilution, where it was shown that the antibody reduced the frequency of CTL produced, and greatly (fourfold) reduced the frequency of AK cells generated from their precursors. We discuss the possibility that human CTL may express a differentiation factor receptor that is distinct from the receptor for IL-2.