We have reported recently that high concentrations of anti-CD3 mAb inhibited IL-2-dependent proliferation of TH1 but not TH2 clones. The selective inhibitory effect on TH1 clones suggested that the two helper T lymphocyte subsets might utilize different TCR-associated signal transduction mechanisms. In the present study, we demonstrate that this distinction was not due to a gross difference in the level of TCR expression by TH1 and TH2 clones. Inhibition of TH1 proliferation by anti-CD3 mAb appeared to depend on calcium for maximal effect, suggesting that a substantial elevation of intracellular free calcium concentration ([Ca2+]i) might not occur after ligation of the TCR complex of TH2 clones. Calcium ionophore inhibited IL-2-dependent proliferation of both subsets, suggesting that receptor/ligand systems which stimulate elevated [Ca2+]i would be expected to inhibit proliferation. Although elevated [Ca2+]i and generation of inositol phosphates were readily detected in TH1 clones, these second messengers were not detected following stimulation of TH2 clones via the TCR complex. In addition, lymphokine production by TH1 clones was more sensitive to inhibition by cholera toxin, 8-bromoadenosine 3':5'-cyclic monophosphate, and cyclosporin A than was lymphokine production by TH2 clones. Collectively, these results suggest that TH1 and TH2 clones utilize distinct TCR-associated signal transduction mechanisms for lymphokine gene expression. The difference in signaling mechanisms suggests a potential pharmacologic target for intervention in situations where inappropriate activation of TH1 or TH2 cells occurs in vivo.