The capacity of epidermal cells (EC) to stimulate T cell activation is a Langerhans cell (LC)-dependent phenomenon. In all in vitro assays probed, LC subserve antigen-presenting cell functions in that they display surface-bound foreign or altered-self structures and thereby activate T cell responses. In contrast, attempts to demonstrate accessory cell (ACC) function of LC-containing EC have yielded negative results, i.e., EC lacking foreign cell surface antigens were not able to restore cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) responses in Ia+ adherent cell-depleted cultures. Reasoning that the ACC function of EC might be critically linked to cluster formation between LC and other cell types involved, we tested the ACC function of EC under experimental conditions that allow a close physical contact between the cell types involved (round-bottomed microtiter plates and brief centrifugation of culture plates). By using these modifications, the failure of highly purified B6 T cells to develop alloreactive CTL activity when stimulated with either highly purified, mitomycin C-treated C3H or B6CF1 T cells was restored by the addition of B6 EC. The CTL thus generated produced significant lysis of Con-A-stimulated C3H or BALB/c, but not B6, spleen cell targets. In a similar fashion, TNP- or FITC-specific CTL were generated when (in a syngeneic system) mitomycin C-treated TNP- or FITC-modified stimulator T cells and responder T cells were co-cultured in the presence, but not in the absence, of unmodified EC. The capacity of EC to restore CTL activity in a culture system depleted of Ia-bearing cells was not dependent upon their H-2 type, but was critically linked to the presence of Ia-bearing LC. We therefore conclude that LC-containing EC can subserve the ACC function in the generation of H-2-restricted CTL, provided that culture conditions are chosen that allow a close physical contact between the cell types involved.