The effect of stimulating normal type 1 murine T cell clones with anti-CD3 antibody was examined in vitro. In the absence of accessory cells, anti-CD3 antibody immobilized on plastic plates stimulated inositol phosphate production, suboptimal proliferation, IL-2 and IL-3 production, and maximal IFN-gamma production. Addition of accessory cells augmented lymphokine production and proliferation when the effects of "high-dose suppression" were relieved by removing the T cells from the antibody-coated plates. Exposure of type 1 T cell clones to immobilized anti-CD3 antibody alone rapidly induced long-lasting proliferative unresponsiveness (anergy) to Ag stimulation that could be prevented by accessory cells. This anergic state was characterized by a lymphokine production defect, not a failure of the T cells to respond to exogenous IL-2 or to express surface Ti/CD3 complexes. In addition, anergy could not be induced in the presence of cyclosporine A. These results suggest that under certain conditions anti-CD3 antibodies may have potent immunosuppressive effects independent of Ti/CD3 modulation. Furthermore, our results support a two-signal model of type 1 T cell activation in which Ti/CD3 occupancy alone (signal 1) induces anergy, whereas Ti/CD3 occupancy in conjunction with a costimulatory signal (signal 2) induces a proliferative response.