The present study was undertaken to elucidate different requirements for CD2-mediated activation of naive (CD45RO-) and memory (CD45RO+) CD4+ T cells. A mitogenic combination of anti-CD2 (anti-T11(2) and anti-T11(3] mAbs could effectively induce the proliferation of memory CD4+ T cells even in the absence of monocytes. In marked contrast, naive CD4+ T cells did not disclose any proliferative responses to anti-CD2 mAbs, when monocytes were absent in culture. This differential responsiveness of naive and memory CD4+ T cells appeared to be related largely to a difference in IL-6-producing ability between both populations. IL-6 among monocyte-derived cytokines could correct unresponsiveness of naive CD4+ T cells to anti-CD2 stimulation. Unlike naive CD4+ T cells, memory CD4+ T cells produced IL-6 by themselves, with its mRNA being expressed on anti-CD2 stimulation. Anti-IL-6R mAb significantly inhibited proliferation of memory CD4+ T cells seen in the anti-CD2-stimulated cultures without monocytes, indicating the involvement of their own production of IL-6 in CD2-mediated activation. The results suggest an essential role of IL-6 for triggering of CD4+ T cells via the CD2 molecule.