The present study was undertaken to assess the Ia differentiation requirements of CD8+ class II-allospecific CTL, whose CD8+ phenotype is apparently "discordant" with their MHC class II reactivity. To do so, we compared the effect of in vivo anti-Ia blockade on the differentiation of Ia-reactive CD8+ CTL with its effect on the differentiation of CD4+ T cells. We found that anti-Ia blockade did not detectably interfere with the differentiation of CD8+ Ia-reactive CTL, even though it arrested the differentiation of CD4+ T cells. Thus, the differentiation of CD4+ T cells is strictly dependent upon Ia engagement, whereas the differentiation of CD8+ T cells, even those with reactivity against MHC class II alloantigens, does not require Ia engagement. These results support the concept that Ia-reactive CD8+ T cells are conventional CD8+ CTL, probably selected by self-class I MHC molecules during differentiation, whose receptors fortuitously crossreact on MHC class II alloantigens. Taken together, the present data indicate an intimate relationship between CD4/CD8 expression with MHC class specificity during T cell differentiation and selection. We suggest that an active triggering role for CD4 and CD8 accessory molecules in T cell differentiation is best able to explain these observations.