CD4+ T lymphocytes provide contact-dependent stimuli to B cells that are critical for the generation of specific antibody responses in a process termed T helper function. The surface structures on activated CD4+ T cells that mediate this function are not fully known. We previously reported the isolation of a functionally unique subclone of the Jurkat leukemic T cell line (D1.1) that constitutively expressed contact-dependent helper effector function. To identify T cell surface molecules that mediate contact-dependent T helper function, a monoclonal antibody (mAb), designated 5c8, was generated that inhibits D1.1-mediated B cell activation and immunoprecipitates a novel 30-kD protein structure from surface-iodinated D1.1 cells. Normal CD4+ T cells express 5c8 antigen (Ag) transiently 5-6 h after activation by phorbol myristate acetate and phytohemagglutinin with maximal expression 5-6 h after activation and absence of expression by 24 h. In contrast, neither resting nor activated CD8+ T cells express 5c8 Ag. In functional studies, mAb 5c8 inhibits the ability of fixed, activated CD4+ T cells to induce B cell surface CD23 expression. In addition, mAb 5c8 inhibits the ability of CD4+ T cells to direct terminal B cell differentiation driven by pokeweed mitogen. Taken together, these data suggest that 5c8 Ag is a novel, activation-induced surface T cell protein that is involved in mediating a contact-dependent element of the helper effector function of CD4+ T lymphocytes.