Murine lupus in BXSB mice is associated with B cell hyperactivity, monocyte proliferation, and impaired T cell function. However, the significance of these abnormalities, and the relationship among them, has not been clearly established. To examine the role of T cells in the pathogenesis of autoimmune disease in BXSB mice, we depleted specific T cell subsets from BXSB males by using rat IgG2b monoclonal antibodies (MAb) to either Thy-1.2 (on all T cells) or L3T4 (on "helper/inducer" T cells). A single injection of anti-Thy-1.2 (6 mg i.v.) at age 3 mo produced a sustained 40 to 50% reduction in circulating T cells for 6 mo. Treatment prevented monocytosis, reduced anti-DNA antibody concentration, and retarded renal disease, but it did not prolong life. Repeated injections of rat MAb to Thy-1.2 were precluded by the development of a host immune response to rat immunoglobulin (Ig) that can cause anaphylaxis in BXSB mice. In contrast, rat MAb to L3T4 stimulated little or no immune response to rat Ig. We therefore were able to treat BXSB mice weekly with anti-L3T4 (2 mg i.p.) from age 3 to 12 mo. Treatment reduced circulating L3T4+ cells beneath the level of detection by fluorescence analysis. It also significantly reduced monocytosis, anti-DNA antibody production, renal disease, and mortality. These findings establish that monocytosis and autoimmunity in BXSB mice are promoted by T cells. They extend our previous observation that MAb to L3T4 retard autoimmunity in NZB/NZW F1 mice. Our finding that treatment with MAb to L3T4 is effective in two strains of lupus-prone mice suggests that treatment with MAb to Leu-3/T4, the human homologue for L3T4, may be effective in people with systemic lupus erythematosus.