K46J B lymphomas express a T cell costimulatory activity that is not inhibited by CTLA-4Ig, anti-B7-1, anti-B7-2, anti-intercellular adhesion molecule 1 or antibodies to heat stable antigen. In this paper we report that this costimulatory activity is mediated at least in part by 4-1BB ligand, a member of the tumor necrosis factor (TNF) gene family that binds to 4-1BB, a T cell activation antigen with homology to the TNF/nerve growth factor receptor family. A fusion protein between 4-1BB and alkaline phosphatase (4-1BB-AP) blocks T cell activation by K46J lymphomas in both an antigen-specific system and with polyclonally (anti-CD3) activated T cells. 4-1BB-AP also blocks antigen presentation by normal spleen cells. When the antigen-presenting cells express B7 molecules as well as 4-1BB ligand, we find that B7 molecules and 4-1BB-AP both contribute to T cell activation. These data suggest that 4-1BB ligand plays an important role in costimulation of IL-2 production and proliferation by T cells. The B lymphoma M12 expresses low levels of 4-1BB-L but can be induced to express higher levels by treatment of the B cells with cAMP, which also induces B7-1 and B7-2 in these cells. Thus cAMP appears to coordinately induce several costimulatory molecules on B cells.