Five mAbs have been generated and used to characterize TAP (T cell activating protein) a novel, functional murine T cell membrane antigen. The TAP molecule is a 12-kD protein that is synthesized by T cells. By antibody crossblocking, it appears to be closely associated with a 16-kD protein on the T cell membrane also identified with a novel mAb. These molecules are clearly distinct from the major well-characterized murine T cell antigens previously described. Antibody binding to TAP can result in the activation of MHC-restricted, antigen-specific inducer T cell hybridomas that is equivalent in magnitude to maximal antigen or lectin stimulation. This is a direct effect of soluble antibody and does not require accessory cells or other factors. The activating anti-TAP mAbs are also mitogenic for normal heterogeneous T lymphocytes in the presence of accessory cells or IL-1. In addition, these antibodies are observed to modulate specific immune stimulation. Thus, the activating anti-TAP mAbs synergise with antigen-specific stimulation of T cells, while a nonactivating anti-TAP mAb inhibits antigen driven activation. These observations suggest that the TAP molecule may participate in physiologic T cell activation. The possible relationship of TAP to known physiologic triggering structures, the T3-T cell receptor complex, is considered. TAP is expressed on 70% of peripheral T cells and therefore defines a major T cell subset, making it perhaps the first example of a murine subset-specific activating protein.