CD28 has been identified in man and mouse as a potent costimulatory receptor on T cells. We have generated a mAb, called JJ319, to rat CD28 and show that it is expressed on virtually all peripheral rat alpha beta and on most gamma delta T cells, and on about half of NK cells. In contrast to the mouse but as in humans, most immature CD4+8+TCRlow thymocytes express little or no CD28, whereas CD28 expression is high on TCRintermediate and TCRhigh cells. mAb JJ319 very effectively costimulates T cell proliferation and IL-2 secretion by resting rat T cells. In contrast to results obtained in mice and humans, phorbol ester did not synergize in T cell activation with CD28-specific mAb but even induced sensitivity to cyclosporin A in T cell cultures that were optimally costimulated by mAbs to the TCR and to CD28. This result points to a novel effect of protein kinase activation by phorbol ester on signal transduction by TCR plus CD28 costimulation which only becomes apparent if, as in the rat, the TCR-mediated signal cannot be replaced by phorbol ester.