The expression of membrane-associated forms of lymphotoxin (LT) and TNF were examined on cell lines of T, B, and myeloid origin, IL-2 dependent T cell clones, and peripheral blood lymphocytes. Inducible and constitutive patterns of surface LT expression were found on T cells as exemplified by the II-23.D7, a CD4+T cell hybridoma, and HUT-78, a T cell lymphoma. Phorbol ester induced surface LT expression on Ramos, an EBV transformed B cell line, but at a slower rate of appearance when compared to the II-23.D7. Secretion of LT was rapidly inducible by phorbol ester in II-23.D7 and also in HUT-78 but with slower kinetics; surface LT expression continued in both lines after secretion had ceased. Low levels of membrane TNF were transiently induced on II-23.D7 and HUT-78, but none was observed on Ramos. Peripheral blood monocytes and some myeloid tumor lines did not express surface LT. Several T cell clones expressed surface LT after Ag-specific stimulation, and expression persisted several days. Stimulation through the TCR or by IL-2 rapidly induced surface LT on resting peripheral T cells and CD56+ NK cells; pokeweed mitogen activation induced expression on CD20+ B cells. Consistent with previous results, immunoprecipitation with anti-LT mAb showed that LT was complexed with a distinct 33 kDa glycoprotein (p33) on cells that expressed surface LT, whereas secreted LT was not associated with p33. Surface and secreted modes of LT expression by activated T, B, and NK cells suggests that LT can be utilized as either a localized or diffusible mediator in immune responses.