In an attempt to select mAbs specific for human TCR-gamma/delta, a polyclonal CD3+ 4-8-WT31- (TCR-gamma/delta+) cell line (MV1) was used for mice immunization. An mAb, termed BB3, reacted with MV1 cells but not with a large panel of CD3+ WT31+ (TCR-alpha/beta+) cell populations or clones. In addition, BB3 mAb reacted with the majority of CD3+ WT31- clones derived from six different donors. Double-color fluorescence experiments and FACS analysis showed that BB3+ cells were restricted to the CD3+ fraction of peripheral blood lymphocytes; in addition, in several donors the percentages (0.5-8% of total PBL) of BB3+ cells paralleled those of CD3+ WT31- cells. Surface molecules recognized by BB3 were susceptible to antibody-induced modulation; in addition, cell treatment with either BB3 or anti-CD3 mAb caused the simultaneous downregulation of the two molecules. That BB3 molecules are physically linked to CD3 antigen was further supported by immunoprecipitation experiments. Thus, under conditions that preserve the TCR-CD3 association, both BB3 and anti-CD3 mAb precipitated from 125I-labeled MV1 cells the same set of molecules. These consisted in the 18-28-kD CD3 molecules and in three bands of approximately 44, 42, and 38 kD under reducing conditions. When cell lysis was performed in 1% NP-40, the molecules immunoprecipitated by BB3 mAb were represented by an 80-kD band under nonreducing conditions, which resolved, under reducing conditions, in the three 44-, 42-, and 38-kD bands. Similar disulphide-linked forms of the TCR molecules were revealed in all of the other eight CD3+ WT31- BB3+ clones analyzed. Analysis of TCR molecules by electrophoresis (NEPHGE) showed that BB3 or anti-CD3 precipitated a 44-kD molecule displaying a basic PI (approximately 7.5) and two more acidic proteins (PI approximately 6) with a mol mass of 42 and 38 kD. Studies aimed to define whether stimuli directly acting on TCR-gamma/delta could induce CD3+ WT31- cell activation revealed that (a) In the presence of PMA, soluble BB3 mAb induced IL-2 production by MV1 cell line and by three other CD3+ WT31- BB3+ clones analyzed. (b) BB3 mAb-producing hybridoma used as triggering target, was efficiently lysed by CD3+ WT31- BB3+ effector cells (but not by CD3+ WT31+ BB3- conventional CTL). (c) Soluble BB3 mAb induced CD3+ WT31- BB3+ effector cells to lyse the Fc receptor-positive P815 target cells. (d) BB3-TCR-gamma/delta interaction on CD3+ WT31- BB3+ cells induced a rapid increase of [Ca2+]i levels, similar to that observed in response to anti-CD3 mAbs.