Picryl (trinitrophenyl) chloride (PCL) contact sensitization of mice induces T cells that release an antigen-binding T cell factor (PCLF) that plays an important role in the initiation of contact sensitivity responses, in part via activation of mast cells. The current study employs an in vitro indirect rosette assay to demonstrate that PCLF can interact with the mast cell surface. Sheep red blood cells (SRBC) were hapten conjugated with trinitrophenyl (TNP), dinitrophenyl (DNP), or oxazolone (OX). When TNP-conjugated SRBC were coated with PCLF, monoclonal anti-DNP IgE, or anti-DNP IgG1, they produced 40 to 50% rosettes with purified normal mouse peritoneal mast cells. Analogous antigen-binding factors, from lymphoid cells of OX and dinitrofluorobenzene contact-sensitized mice, gave similar mast cell rosetting levels with OX-SRBC and DNP-SRBC, respectively. PCLF demonstrated a high degree of hapten specificity in that it formed rosettes with TNP-SRBC but not with DNP-SRBC, unlike IgE and IgG1, or DNPF, which formed rosettes with either SRBC type. Similarly, soluble TNP-BSA could inhibit PCLF rosette-forming capacity, but soluble DNP-BSA could not. In addition to mouse mast cells, PCLF formed rosettes with rat basophil leukemia cells, mouse peritoneal exudate macrophages, mouse alveolar macrophages, and J 774 cultured mouse macrophages; it did not form rosettes with rat mast cells, rat alveolar macrophages, or mouse spleen cells. Thus, PCLF-formed rosettes were antigen specific, relatively species specific, and mast cell/macrophage specific. PCLF-mediated rosette-forming activity could be detected in the presence of nanogram quantities of PCLF. More than 10 times greater IgE was needed to produce IgE-mediated rosettes. Reduction and alkylation eliminated the rosetting activity of IgE, but the rosetting activity of PCLF was not affected. PCLF, but not IgE rosette-forming activity, could be removed by and eluted from affinity columns linked with a monoclonal antibody specific for T cell-derived antigen-binding factors, whereas PCLF rosetting activity was not retained by an anti-immunoglobulin affinity column. Preincubation of mast cells with rat myeloma IgE or mouse monoclonal IgE of various specificities blocked IgE rosettes but not PCLF-induced rosettes. Other immunoglobulin isotypes likewise did not block PCLF rosettes. However, PCLF rosettes could be blocked by preincubation of mast cells with OX factor (OXF),and OXF-mediated rosettes could be blocked similarly by PCLF. These results suggest that the antigen-binding T cell factor PCLF interacts with a unique receptor on the surface of mouse mast cells.