We recently have developed a method to generate primary P815-specific CTL in vitro from normal syngeneic splenocytes by employing transfection of B7-1 combined with exogenous IL-12 and IL-6. Surprisingly, when the homologous costimulator molecule B7-2 was substituted for B7-1 in this system, no specific CTL activity was obtained. Similarly, B7-1- but not B7-2-transfected P815 cells generated alloantigen-specific CTL activity from C57BL/6, accessory cell- and CD4(+)-depleted splenocytes, and costimulated proliferation of CD8+ lymphocytes in the presence of low doses of anti-CD3 mAb. In all systems, combined expression of both B7-1 and B7-2 costimulated as effectively as B7-1 alone, arguing against delivery of a dominant negative signal by B7-2. Proliferation of allogeneic, CD4(+)-depleted splenocytes in response to P815 cells, which relies on costimulation by normal accessory cells, was inhibited by anti-B7-1 but not anti-B7-2 mAbs. Finally, indirect evidence suggested a higher avidity of B7-1+ cells than B7-2+ cells for CTLA4. Thus, at least in the context of primary stimulation by irradiated P815 transfectants, B7-1 appears to be superior to B7-2 at costimulation of CD8+ T lymphocytes.