Recent studies have demonstrated that the 50KD T11 molecule is a surface component of a macrophage-independent alternative pathway of human T cell activation that is unrelated to the T3/Ti antigen-MHC receptor complex. Given the expression of T11 on all human thymocytes, it was of interest to determine whether they could be activated via this pathway. The triggering of T11 by monoclonal antibodies anti-T112 and anti-T113, directed at two unique epitopes on the molecule, induced IL 2 receptor expression on both T3+ and T3- thymocytes but did not induce IL 2 production. Consequently, in contrast to peripheral blood T cells, thymocytes did not proliferate in response to anti-T112 and anti-T113 in the absence of exogenous IL 2. These studies suggest that IL 2 receptor gene activation precedes IL 2 gene activation in T cell development. The ability of the alternative pathway of T cell activation to induce IL 2 receptor expression on T3- thymocytes implies that the T11 molecule may have an important role in early thymocyte ontogeny.