When cultured in the presence of previously activated T cells, up to 30% of resting T cells are activated, as indicated by lymphoblastic morphology, formation of cell aggregates, expression of activation Ags (CD25 and HLA-DR), and a proliferative response. This activation occurred in the absence of accessory cells and was not HLA restricted, and the TCR repertoire of the responding cells was extremely diverse without evidence for preferential expansion of T cells expressing certain V beta families or clonal populations. The ability of activated T cells to stimulate resting T cells was a transient phenomenon, which was first detected 24 h after activation and which peaked between 48 and 96 h; the stimulation of previously resting T cells produced more lymphostimulatory activity than restimulation of recently activated cells. Both resting CD4+ and CD8+ T cells expressing TCR-alpha beta and -gamma delta responded to previously activated cells, including cells with both the naive and memory phenotypes. When T cells were activated by this pathway and recultured in the presence of Ag and accessory cells, the strong proliferative response observed at 5 to 7 days with use of fresh T cells was almost entirely absent, and this impaired Ag-induced proliferative response could not be explained by the generation of suppressor cells or the inability of these cells to respond to growth factors. These findings are compatible with the possibility that Ag-specific activation of T cells permits the subsequent Ag-independent activation of other T cells and could explain the broad TCR repertoire and impaired Ag-induced proliferation of activated T cells at sites of immune reactions.