Antisense oligonucleotides complementary to the 5' end of the mRNA encoding the Ly-6A protein were used to block the expression of that protein. Using this approach we could inhibit the expression of Ly-6A by 60-80% in antigen-primed lymph node (LN) T cells as well as in the D10 T cell clone. Inhibition of Ly-6 expression resulted in the inability to restimulate in vitro, antigen-primed T cells. It also blocked the activation of normal spleen cells by Con A, monoclonal antibody (mAb) to CD3, and mAb to Ly-6. In contrast, stimulation of normal spleen cells with the pharmacological agents PMA + ionomycin were unaffected by the inhibition of Ly-6 expression. Similar results were obtained with the D10 T cell clone; stimulation with Con A + interleukin 1 (IL-1), antigen-presenting cells (APC), or the clonotypic antibody + IL-1 was greatly reduced in the presence of antisense oligonucleotides to Ly-6. Stimulation with PMA + ionomycin was again unaffected. We also studied the effect of antisense oligonucleotides on stimulation of preactivated D10 cells. Preactivation of D10 cells with Con A + IL-1 renders them receptive to secondary stimulation by other lymphokines. In this case, antisense oligonucleotides to Ly-6 had no effect on secondary activation with IL-2, IL-4 + IL-1, or PMA + ionomycin. We conclude from these studies that Ly-6 expression is required for T cell receptor (TCR)-mediated T cell activation.