Most mature human T lymphocytes express both the multichain T3 (CD3)/Ti T cell receptor for antigen (TCR), and the biochemically distinct 55-kDa T11 (CD2) glycoprotein. Stimulating the T11 molecule causes profound T cell proliferation and functional activation in vitro, but the relationship of T11-mediated activation to antigenic stimulation of T lymphocytes in vivo remains unknown. We now present evidence that T11 function is directly linked to TCR components in T3/Ti+ T11+ human T cells. First, we found that stimulating peripheral blood T cells with the mitogenic combination of anti-T11(2) cells with the mitogenic combination of anti-T11(2) plus anti-T11(3) monoclonal antibodies caused the phosphorylation of TCR T3 chains. The predominance of T3-gamma-phosphorylation that occurred in anti-T11(2) plus anti-T11(3)-treated T cells is similar to the pattern previously observed in antigen-stimulated T cell clones. Second, T11 function depended upon concurrent cell-surface expression of the TCR. Thus, when peripheral blood T cells were deprived of cell surface T3/Ti by anti-T3 modulation, anti-T11(2) plus anti-T11(3)-induced mitogenesis and transmembrane signal generation in the form of calcium mobilization were inhibited. The mechanism of TCR-T11 interdependence was investigated in a series of TCR-deficient variants of a T cell lymphoblastoid cell line. T3/Ti negative variants expressed cell surface T11, but anti-T11(2) plus anti-T11(3) failed to cause detectable calcium mobilization. The TCR-deficient variants also failed to express T11(3) activation epitopes after incubation with anti-T11(2) antibodies, suggesting that T11(3) expression is an essential and TCR-dependent intermediate in the T11 activation mechanism in these cells. Taken together, our results suggest that T11 function depends upon cell-surface expression of TCR in many T3/Ti+ T11+ T lymphocytes, and T11-mediated activation is intimately interconnected with TCR activation mechanisms. A model in which stimulating signals delivered via T11 may be a part of antigenic activation of T lymphocytes is presented.