Mycobacterial antigens not only stimulate Th cells that produce macrophage-activating factors, but also CD4+ and CD8+ CTL that lyse human macrophages. The mycobacterial recombinant 65-kD hsp was previously found to be an important target antigen for polyclonal CD4+ CTL. Because of the major role of 65-kD hsp in the immune response to mycobacterial as well as autoantigens, we have studied CTL activity to this protein at the clonal level. HLA-DR or HLA-DQ restricted, CD4+CD8- T cell clones that recognize different peptides of the M. leprae 65-kD hsp strongly lysed EBV-BLCL pulsed with specific but not irrelevant peptide. No bystander lysis of B cells, T cells, or tumor cells was seen. Target cell lysis could not be triggered by PMA + Ca2+ ionophore alone and depended on active metabolism. Interestingly, these CD4+ CTL also strongly lysed themselves and other HLA-class II compatible CD4+ (TCR-alpha/beta or -gamma/delta) or CD8+ CTL clones in the presence of peptide, suggesting that CTL are not actively protected from CTL-mediated lysis. Cold target competition experiments suggested that EBV-BLCL targets were more efficiently recognized than CD4+ CTL targets. These results demonstrate that hsp65 peptide-specific HLA class II-restricted CD4+ T cell clones display strong peptide-dependent cytolytic activity towards both APCs, and, unexpectedly, CD4+ and CD8+ CTL clones, including themselves. Since, in contrast to murine T cells human T cells express class II, CTL-mediated T cell killing may represent a novel immunoregulatory pathway in man.