During previous studies on the regulation of cloned T lymphocyte function, we observed that murine cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) clones progressively lose the ability to lyse appropriate target cells during prolonged (24 to 48 hr) incubation with the tumor promoter phorbol myristic acetate (PMA). We further observed that the cytolytic function of PMA-treated CTL clones can be restored by incubation with secondary MLC supernatant (2 degrees MLC SN), a potent source of cytokines. We now report our observations on the nature of the cytokine(s) responsible for recovery of CTL activity. Like 2 degrees MLC SN, the lectin-induced SN from a cloned helper T cell and the lectin-induced SN from a T cell hybridoma can restore cytolytic activity to cloned CTL treated with PMA. In contrast, supernatants from L929 cells, WEHI-3 cells, and P388D1 cells fail to restore cytolytic activity to similarly treated cloned CTL. These data suggest that IL 2 and/or gamma-IFN, but not CSF-1, CSF-GM, IL 3, or IL 1, can influence expression of cytolysis by cloned CTL. Furthermore, highly purified IL 2 can restore cytolytic activity, even when cytosine arabinoside is present to inhibit clonal expansion. Our studies indicate that cytolysis is a reversible function of cloned CTL, and that cytolysis may not necessarily represent an end-stage feature of CTL maturation. Our studies further show that IL 2 is both necessary and sufficient for resumption of cytolytic function by "deactivated" CTL. As such, these observations suggest that IL 2 can regulate not only T cell proliferation but also the expression of cytolysis by some cytolytic T cell populations.