To compare the helper function of murine T cell clones that secrete IL-2 and IFN-gamma (Th1 cells) or IL-4 and IL-5 (Th2), purified resting B cells were stimulated with F(ab')2 rabbit anti-mouse Ig (RAMG) and rabbit Ig-specific, class II MHC-restricted cloned T cells belonging to the two subsets. Both Th2 clones examined induced strong proliferative responses of B cells in the presence of RAMG, as well as the secretion of IgM and IgG1 antibodies. In contrast, the Th1 clones tested failed to stimulate B cell growth or antibody secretion. Th2-mediated B cell activation was dependent on IL-4 and IL-5, and was also inhibited by IFN-gamma or IFN-gamma produced by Th1 cells present in the same cultures. However, the failure of Th1 cells to help resting B cells could not be reversed with neutralizing anti-IFN-gamma antibody. In addition to this inhibitory effect, IFN-gamma was required for the secretion of IgG2a antibody, particularly when B cells were stimulated with polyclonal activators such as LPS. Finally, both sets of T cell clones secreted lymphokines when stimulated with purified B cells and RAMG. These experiments demonstrate that T cells that differ in lymphokine production also differ in their ability to help B cells as a result of cognate interactions at low concentrations of antigens. Moreover, IL-4, IL-5, and IFN-gamma serve different roles in the T cell-dependent proliferative and differentiative responses of resting B lymphocytes.