Activation signal requirements for the induction of the IL-2 responsiveness in purified subsets of human resting T cells, T4+ or T8+, have been investigated under the monocyte-depleted conditions. Substantial levels of IL-2 responsiveness were induced in T8+ cells by lectin, Con A, mAb directed against the CD3 Ag, OKT3, Ca2+ ionophore, ionomycin or phorbol ester, PMA. In contrast, none of these stimuli was by itself sufficient for the induction of IL-2 responsiveness in the T4+ subset. The latter cells could, however, be induced to respond to IL-2 by combinations of PMA plus either of Con A, OKT3, or ionomycin (but not any combination of Con A, ionomycin, and OKT3). These data indicate that induction of IL-2 responsiveness in the resting T4+ subset is more complex, possibly requiring two intracellular activation signals, increase in the concentration of intracellular Ca2+ and activation of protein kinase C, whereas either signal may directly trigger IL-2 responsiveness in the resting T8+ cells. The data further suggest that under optimal conditions, growth of both resting T4+ and T8+ subsets may be independent of monocytes.