Monoclonal antibodies (mAb) to monomorphic and polymorphic determinants on the heavy chain of histocompatibility leukocyte antigen (HLA) class I antigens inhibit mAb OKT3-induced T cell proliferation, whereas the anti-beta 2-microglobulin mAb NAMB-1 does not affect it. The inhibitory effect of anti-HLA class I mAb is specific, is not an Fc-mediated phenomenon, does not require accessory cells, and does not involve early stages of T cell activation. Distinct determinants of HLA class I antigens regulate T cell proliferation by different mechanisms, because the anti-HLA-A2, A28 mAb CR11-351, and the mAb W6/32 to a framework determinant of HLA class I antigens block interleukin 2 (IL-2) secretion and IL-2 receptor expression, whereas the mAb CR10-215 to a monomorphic determinant blocks only IL-2 receptor expression. The mAb CR10-215 and W6/32 induced a 50% of maximal inhibition of T cell proliferation, when added after 27 and 12 hr, respectively, of incubation of peripheral blood mononuclear cells with mAb OKT3. On the other hand, the mAb CR11-351 inhibited T cell proliferation even when added after 38 hr of incubation of peripheral blood mononuclear cells with mAb OKT3 and was the only one to inhibit proliferation of cycling T lymphocytes. It is suggested that HLA class I antigens regulate T cell proliferation by interacting with cell-surface molecules involved in T cell activation. The differential inhibitory activity of the anti-HLA class I monoclonal antibodies tested may reflect the different ability of the corresponding determinants to interact with activation molecules.