We investigated whether human resting T cells could be activated to proliferate and display effector function in the absence of T cell receptor occupancy. We report that combination of interleukin 2 (IL-2), tumor necrosis factor alpha, and IL-6 activated highly purified naive (CD45RA+) and memory (CD45RO+) resting CD4+ T cells to proliferate. Under this condition, memory resting T cells could also display effector function as measured by lymphokine synthesis and help for immunoglobulin production by B cells. This novel Ag-independent pathway of T cell activation may play an important role in vivo in recruiting effector T cells at the site of immune response and in maintaining the clonal size of memory T cells in the absence of antigenic stimulation. Moreover, cytokines can induce proliferation of naive T cells without switch to memory phenotype and this may help the maintenance of the peripheral pool of naive T cells.