Antibody heteroaggregates have been used to render human peripheral blood T cells lytic for specified targets. The heteroaggregates contain anti-T3 covalently linked to antibodies against nominal target cell antigens. Such heteroaggregates bind target cells directly to T3 molecules on effector cells and trigger target cell lysis. Freshly prepared human PBL, when coated with anti-T3-containing heteroaggregates, are lytic without further stimulation, although brief exposure to crude lymphokine-containing supernatants or recombinant IL-2, but not recombinant IFN-gamma, enhances the activity. The effector cells are T8+, and when fully stimulated, their lytic activity approaches that of some cloned CTL. When T cells are treated with heteroaggregate, washed, and incubated at 37 degrees C in medium not containing heteroaggregate, they retain activity for at least 24 h. The results of this study suggest a strategy in which heteroaggregate-coated T cells could be used in vivo to mount a lytic response against pathogenic cells such as tumor cells or virus-infected cells.