DAP.3 transfectants expressing native H-2E molecules with or without human LFA-3 and ICAM-1 (intercellular adhesion molecule-1) failed to induce proliferation by human peripheral blood T cells. Introduction of sequence from the DR beta 2 domain into the H-2E molecule led to the induction of detectable proliferation, which was substantially augmented by co-expression of human LFA-3 and ICAM-1 to levels comparable to those induced by DAP.3 cells co-expressing wild-type DR alloantigens with human LFA-3/ICAM-1. In marked contrast, cells expressing native H-2A molecules together with human accessory molecules provoked strong primary proliferative responses. The results of Ab inhibition experiments confirmed that this was caused by direct xenorecognition. In limiting dilution assays the frequency of anti-H-2A, IL-2-secreting, CD4+ human T cells was only fivefold lower than that measured against a DR alloantigen expressed on the same background. No measurable frequency was recorded against H-2E-expressing cells. Evidence to suggest that this difference was a result of isotype-specific differences in the interaction with CD4 was provided using transfectants expressing DR alloantigens with either the H-2E or H-2A beta 2 domain. DR molecules with the H-2A beta 2 domain stimulated a substantially stronger response than those with the H-2E beta 2 domain. These results challenge the view that xenogeneic T cell responses between evolutionarily distant species are weak; further emphasize the influence of the interaction between the T cell co-receptor molecule CD4, with its MHC class II molecular ligand on the strength of primary xenoresponses; and suggest that MHC class II isotypes may differ substantially in their interaction with CD4.