CD4+ and CD8+ T cells emerge from thymic selection expressing a TCR restricted by MHC class II (TCRII) and MHC class I (TCRI), and upon Ag stimulation develop respectively into Th and CTL effector cells. The influence of thymic differentiation and antigenic stimulation on the determination of T cell functions was studied, with CD4+ T cells expressing a transgenic TCRI that reacts with the class I alloantigen H-2K(b) in a CD8-independent fashion. Such T cells additionally express a TCR, probably TCRII, in which the transgenic TCR beta-chain is associated with endogenously rearranged TCR alpha-chains. Upon in vitro stimulation with H-2K(b)-expressing cells, both CD8+ and CD4+ transgenic TCR+ T cells developed into CTL capable of killing Ag-expressing target cells through a perforin-dependent mechanism, and secreted IL-2 and IFN-gamma. Fas ligand-dependent killing could also be induced in both CD8+ and CD4+ in vitro stimulated T cells. The capacity to secrete IL-4 was restricted to the CD4+ T cells, however, suggesting that both CD8/CD4-shared and CD4-unique programs can be elicited by stimulation of CD4 T cells through a TCRI. Acquisition of CTL function was also induced upon class II alloantigen stimulation through the endogenously rearranged TCRII, which represents a polyclonal set of TCRs. IL-2, IFN-gamma, and after restimulation, IL-4, were also produced. Thus: 1) events associated with intrathymic selection influence the gene program activated in response to the same TCRI/APC interaction; and 2) CD4+ T cells expressing a TCRI and a TCRII can activate the same gene program after engagement of either one of these TCRs.