We have examined the role of Ia-positive and Ia-negative accessory cells (AC) and soluble factors in Con A-stimulated murine T cell activation. Supernatant fluids containing interleukin 1 (IL 1) derived from the P388D1 macrophage cell line and from a lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-stimulated macrophage hybridoma provided only partial reconstitution of the response of purified T cells (18 to 27%). The complete reconstitution obtained with gamma-irradiated spleen cells or LPS-activated B cells was inhibited by approximately 60 to 77% when anti-Ia antibody was included in the culture. Despite this apparent involvement of Ia+ spleen AC, Ia-negative L cell AC could also reconstitute the response of both Class I-restricted Lyt-2+ T cells and Class II-restricted L3T4+ T cells. When the Ia-negative AC were employed, the L3T4 antigen on L3T4+ T cells played a critical role because addition of anti-L3T4 antibody to the culture inhibited the response by 85 to 90%. In contrast, anti-L3T4 did not inhibit the response in the presence of spleen AC. These results suggest that the molecules involved in T cell-AC interactions may vary depending on the AC source. Moreover, at least one of the putative target ligands for L3T4 presumably is not Ia, because anti-L3T4 inhibited T cell stimulation when Ia-negative AC were used.