The elicitation of delayed-type hypersensitivity (DTH) reactions in mice is due to the sequential action of two different Ag-specific Thy-1+ cells. An early-acting DTH-initiating cell in the lymphoid organs produces a circulating, Ag-specific factor that is functionally analogous to IgE antibody and initiates DTH by sensitizing the local tissue for release of the vasoactive amine serotonin. In picryl chloride (PC1) or oxazolone (OX) contact sensitivity, this DTH-initiating factor is called PC1-F and OX-F respectively, and is Ag-specific, but MHC-unrestricted. The phenotype of polyclonal DTH-initiating cells was recently shown to be unusual for an Ag-specific cell. The phenotype was: Thy-1+, Lyt-1+ (CD5), triple negative (CD4-, CD8-, and CD3-), B220+ (Ly-5, CD45RA), positive for IL-3 receptors, but not IL-2 receptors, and positive for antibodies that react with a putative constant or framework portion of DTH-initiating factors such as anti-PC1-F antibodies and 14-30 mAb. We report here the generation of an Ag-specific DTH-initiating cell clone from nude mice that were immunized and boosted by contact sensitization with OX. By flow microfluorometry analysis, this clone has a similar unique surface phenotype, and by in vivo assay has the same functional abilities, as polyclonal DTH-initiating cells. The clone produces Ag-specific OX-F that acts in an Ag-specific manner to initiate DTH. Moreover, specific cDNA probes and Northern blot analysis of the clone demonstrated that the Ag-specific DTH-initiating cells are Thy-1+, CD3-, and IL-3R+. Thus, DTH initiation is due to an Ag-specific lymphoid cell, that produces an Ag-specific factor, and that has a unique surface phenotype for Ag-specific cells; namely, Thy-1+, CD5+, sIg-, CD4-, CD8-, CD3-, CD45RA+, IL-2R-, and IL-3R+.