We have generated stable Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cell transfectants expressing either CD58 or CD59 or both molecules to compare their respective parts played in T cell adhesion and activation. Using a rosetting assay, we have shown the following: 1) The CD59 molecule was directly responsible for adhesive interaction between human T cells and CD59+ CHO transfectants. CD59-mediated adhesion induced 12 +/- 2% (mean +/- SEM, n = 25) of rosettes. 2) The CD58 molecule expressed on CD58+ CHO transfectants induced 29 +/- 6% (mean +/- SEM, n = 8) of rosettes. 3) Double transfected CD58+CD59+ CHO cells formed up to 80% of rosettes, largely exceeding the sum of rosettes formed by single transfectants, thus disclosing at least an additive and possibly a synergic action of both molecules in mediating adhesion to T cells. Culturing purified human T cells in the presence of fixed CHO transfectants and submitogenic doses of PHA + rIL-1 alpha showed that: 1) CD59+ CHO transfectants induced sevenfold T cell proliferation enhancement, demonstrating the direct involvement of the CD59 molecule in T cell activation; 2) CD58+ CHO transfectants induced 20-fold T cell proliferation increase; and 3) the enhancement induced by CD58+CD59+ CHO cells was more than 40-fold. These results suggest that CD58 and CD59 molecules present on the surface of accessory cells might exert synergic function in T cell adhesive interactions and in the stimulation of T cell activation.