CD30 has been extensively studied as a cell surface marker expressed by Reed-Sternberg cells of Hodgkin's disease and other hematologic malignancies, although little is known about its expression by normal lymphoid cells. We therefore characterized the requirements for the induction of CD30 expression and identified the subsets of T cells that express CD30. CD30 is inducible on approximately 15% of normal PBMC stimulated with any of a variety of nonspecific T cell activators, including PHA, Con A, anti-T11(2) + T11(3), and anti-CD3; ionomycin alone induced lower percentages of CD30+ T cells (3 +/- 2%) compared to other stimuli. Maximal numbers of CD30+ cells were observed at 48 to 72 h of activation and the addition of rIL-2 did not affect these kinetics. However, CD30 expression was enhanced by the addition of exogenous rIL-2 to any of the stimuli tested, although rIL-2 alone did not lead to CD30 expression. The induction of CD30 during anti-CD3 mitogenesis was completely inhibitable by anti-IL-2 antibodies and partially inhibitable by rIL-4, indicating a requirement for both TCR triggering and IL-2 for its expression. Dual immunofluorescence analysis revealed that CD30+ cells were confined to CD3+ T cells that coexpressed higher levels of the p55 IL-2 receptor (CD25) than the CD30- population. Furthermore, CD30 expression was restricted to a subset of cells derived from CD45RO+ T cell precursors. Cell cycle analysis showed that CD30+ expression was not cell cycle dependent. Cross-linking of membrane CD30 induced Ca2+ in TCR+, but not TCR- Jurkat T cells. These results demonstrate that CD30 can serve as a T cell signal-transducing molecule and expressed by a unique subset of activated CD45RO+ T cells.