The thymus leukemia antigen (TLA) is a class Ib, or 'nonclassical' class I molecule, one of several encoded within the Tla locus of the mouse major histocompatibility complex (MHC). It structurally resembles the H-2K, D, and L class I transplantation antigens, which present processed peptides to cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs). Although their function(s) are unknown, there has been recent speculation concerning the possibility that class Ib molecules may present antigens to T cells that express gamma delta T cell antigen receptors (TCRs). In this report, using both a cell-cell adhesion assay and adhesion of T lymphocyte clones to purified plate-bound TLA, we provide evidence that TLA can bind to both human and mouse CD8. We also show that a chimeric class I molecule containing the peptide antigen binding site of Ld and the alpha 3 domain, transmembrane, and cytoplasmic segments of TLA, can support a CD8-dependent immune response by CTLs. These results demonstrate for the first time binding of a class Ib molecule to CD8 with a functional outcome, as is observed for the class I transplantation antigens. The capacity to interact with CD8 has been conserved despite the extensive sequence divergence of TLA in the peptide antigen binding site, suggesting this interaction is highly significant. TLA is expressed by epithelial cells in the mouse small intestine. As these epithelial cells are in close contact with intestinal intraepithelial lymphocytes that are nearly all CD8+, and many of which express the gamma delta TCR, the data are consistent with the hypothesis that TLA is involved in antigen presentation, perhaps to gamma delta-positive lymphocytes in this site.