Anti-L3T4 antibodies have different functional effects on different ligands that activate a cloned, L3T4+ helper T cell line. It is reported here that some of these effects involve positive or negative signaling induced by cross-linking L3T4 molecules, because such effects are not observed using the Fab fragment of anti-L3T4. However, the Fab fragment does inhibit responses to antigen:self class II major histocompatibility complex (MHC) and to anti-T cell receptor monoclonal antibodies directed at a particular V region epitope. The finding that the Fab fragment of anti-L3T4, which does not block binding of anti-T cell receptor V region antibodies and does not negative signal can still block activation by such antibodies suggests an intimate association of L3T4 with the T3: alpha: beta T cell receptor complex. This association may normally be induced by interaction of both structures with antigen:self class II MHC complexes. The data also support the hypothesis that cross-linking the L3T4 molecule in the absence of engagement of the T3: alpha: beta complex generates negative or inhibitory signals. Thus, L3T4 plays a central role in the process of class II MHC-restricted T cell antigen recognition and activation.