Changes in T cell helper function were analyzed when anti-CD3-activated T cells were costimulated with mAbs to the CD28 receptor (anti-CD28). T cell-dependent B cell growth and differentiation were consistently augmented if anti-CD3 stimulated-T cells were simultaneously activated with anti-CD28. Although anti-CD28 enhanced IL-2 and IL-4 production, it did not increase B cell responses solely by augmenting production of soluble lymphokines. Anti-CD28 costimulation induced increases on T cells of CD40 ligand (CD40L), known to promote B cell proliferation and Ig secretion. Because anti-CD28 promoted T cell helper functions and expression of CD40L, we examined the dependence for CD40L during T cell-dependent B cell responses. Although soluble CD40 fusion proteins only partially inhibited T cell-dependent B cell activation, we found a strict requirement for CD40L expression at initiating B cell responses. Both CD40L expression and T cell help were blocked by cyclosporin A after TCR cross-linking, and, unlike T cell proliferation, both remained cyclosporin A sensitive during CD28 costimulation. In addition, anti-CD28 could not compensate for the T cell helper deficiency of hyper IgM syndrome patients who lack functional CD40L. Thus, anti-CD28-induced T cell help is delivered via a CD40L-dependent process. The fact that cross-linking CD40 on B cells promotes expression of the B7/BB-1 ligand for CD28 suggest T and B interactions may have a reciprocal amplification mechanism.