T cell activation requires two distinct signals. The first is delivered through the antigen-specific T cell receptor (TCR), and the second is provided by costimulatory molecule(s) present on the surface of the antigen-presenting cell (APC). Stimulation of T helper type 1 T cell clones through the TCR in the absence of the costimulatory activity results in a lack of interleukin 2 (IL-2) secretion and proliferation, and the induction of a long-lived state of nonresponsiveness, termed anergy. In this study, we have examined the transcription factors involved in IL-2 gene expression that are expressed after stimulation of normal T cell clones through the TCR with and without engagement of the necessary costimulatory molecule(s). Antigen-specific activation of the clones results in the induction of a similar pattern of transcription factors that have been previously shown to regulate IL-2 expression. In contrast, antigen presentation by chemically fixed APC, a condition that results in T cell anergy, induces neither NF-AT nor one of the two NF-kappa B binding factors. Thus, the failure to express IL-2 during the induction of T cell anergy may be attributed to the absence of these two transcription factors. When anergized T cells are restimulated with antigen and conventional APC, they induce the transcription factors associated with IL-2 expression, but they fail to synthesize measurable IL-2. Taken together, these data indicate that the control of IL-2 gene expression during anergy induction and during normal stimulation of anergized cells are distinct, and suggest the presence of additional regulatory elements in the IL-2 gene.