These experiments were designed to define the ability of human TCR-gamma+ cells to recognize allogeneic cells. TCR-gamma+-enriched populations were obtained by treating peripheral blood E-rosetting cells with anti-CD4 and anti-CD8 mAbs. The resulting populations were CD2+4-8- expressed variable proportions of CD3+ cells (40-90%), and did not react with the WT31 mAb, which is specific for a framework determinant of the alpha/beta heterodimer that serves as receptor for antigen on most human T lymphocytes. After mixed lymphocyte culture with irradiated allogeneic cells for 7 d and 3 additional days in rIL-2 (100 U/ml), cells underwent proliferation in three of five individuals tested. In addition, MLC-derived cells lysed 51Cr-labeled PHA-induced blasts derived from the allogeneic cells used as stimulator, but not allogeneic unrelated or autologous blast cells. No cytotoxicity against autologous or allogeneic target cells could be induced by culturing CD3+4-8-WT31- lymphocytes in MLC with irradiated autologous cells. Surface iodination of allogeneic MLC-activated CD3+4-8-WT31- cells followed by lysis in 1% digitonin and immunoprecipitation with anti-CD3 mAb indicated that the CD3-associated molecules consisted of a major 45-kD band and a minor band of 43 kD. Northern blot analysis showed that mRNA for the gamma chain was expressed at high levels, whereas mRNAs for alpha and beta chains were missing. These data support the notion that TCR-gamma rather than TCR-alpha/beta is expressed in allospecific CD3-4-8-WT31- cell populations. Clones were further derived from MLC-stimulated CD3+4-8-WT31- populations. All the seven clones studied in detail maintained the surface phenotype as well as the cytolytic pattern of the original MLC populations, thus only specific allogeneic PHA-induced blasts were lysed. NK-sensitive as well as NK-resistant tumor targets were variably susceptible to lysis; therefore, specific cytolytic activity against allogeneic cells was not necessarily linked to the expression of MHC-nonrestricted cytotoxicity against tumor cells.