To understand further the biologic significance of the autologous mixed lymphocyte reaction, we determined the functional properties of autoreactive T cell lines and clones. Initially, we found that cells in an uncloned autoreactive Leu-3+ T cell line helped immunoglobulin production when added to cultures containing fresh T and non-T cells in the absence of pokeweed mitogen (PWM) but suppressed immunoglobulin production in the same cultures in the presence of PWM. To explain this phenomenon, we studied the immunoregulatory potential of an autoreactive T cell clone termed MTC-4. This clone bore the phenotype Leu-3+, 2-, 8-, 11-, DR+ and underwent proliferation when co-cultured with autologous, but not allogeneic non-T cells. Of interest, the immunoregulatory potential of the MTC-4 cells varied according to how the cells were activated. When MTC-4 cells were cultured with autologous non-T cells in the absence of antigen or mitogen (unactivated non-T cells), polyclonal immunoglobulin production (detected by reverse PFC assay) was observed. This helper activity was MHC-restricted in that it was elicited only by autologous non-T cells or MHC-matched allogeneic non-T cells; however, once activated by autologous non-T cells, it could also help allogeneic non-T cells. In contrast, when MTC-4 cells were cultured with autologous non-T cells in the presence of PWM (activated non-T cells), immunoglobulin production was greatly suppressed. This suppression was also observed when MTC-4 cells were added to cultures containing exogenous T cell help (such as that provided by autologous fresh T cells) and was not due to a direct effect of PWM on the T cell clone, because preincubation of MTC-4 cells with PWM before culture with non-T cells did not result in suppression. On the basis of these data, we conclude that autoreactive T cells can have dual immunoregulatory function that is manifest, at least in part, at the single cell level. Moreover, these regulatory functions are differentially elicited depending on the state of activation of the stimulating autologous non-T cells: when stimulated by MHC antigens present on unactivated B cells, they provide helper activity; and when stimulated by MHC antigens present on activated B cells, they act as suppressor cells. Autoreactive T cells with dual regulatory potential appear to make up a substantial proportion of all autoreactive T cells and are cells that are uniquely adapted to maintain immunologic homeostasis.