Molecules of the TNF-R family have been shown to be essential in the regulation of lymphocyte growth and differentiation. The TNF-R family member CD27 binds to a type II transmembrane molecule belonging to the TNF gene family (CD27L) that is identical to the lymphocyte activation Ag CD70. Using transfected mouse fibroblasts expressing human CD70, we demonstrate here that interaction of CD27 with its ligand provides a potent second signal for cytokine production, induction of activation Ags, and proliferation of unprimed CD45RA+, and to a lesser extent, of primed CD45R0+ peripheral blood T cells. In contrast to costimulatory signals delivered via the CD28-ligand B7-1 (CD80), CD70 was found to induce relatively low IL-2, IL-4, and IL-10 but comparable TNF-alpha secretion. Proliferation of CD45RA+, but not of CD45R0+ T cells, was found to be largely resistant to blocking of IL-2/IL-2R interaction. Finally, the finding that CD70 and CD80 cooperate in the induction of T cell proliferation indicates that cooperation of both molecules may be essential for optimal T cell stimulation. The interaction between CD27 and its ligand CD70 might be of particular importance for the recruitment of T cells from the unprimed T cell pool. Moreover, as CD70 expression in vivo is confined to activated B and T lymphocytes, only a limited set of APC are able to generate this specific second signal for T cell expansion.