Cross-linking of MHC class I (MHC-I) molecules on human T cells induces signal-transduction events, including activation of tyrosine kinases, tyrosine phosphorylation of phospholipase C-gamma 1, and elevation of the intracellular free calcium concentration. In this study, we demonstrate that the ZAP70 tyrosine kinase is tyrosine phosphorylated in Jurkat T cells and in purified peripheral T cells after MHC-I ligation. The tyrosine-phosphorylated ZAP70 kinase exhibits a particular phenotype with low affinities for proteins at 21, 40, 60, and 120 kDa, proteins normally co-precipitated with ZAP70 after TCR/CD3 stimulation. The phosphorylation of ZAP70 after MHC-I ligation was dependent on TCR/CD3 surface expression. One of the natural substrates for ZAP70 is the zeta-chain dimer of the TCR/CD3 complex. MHC-I cross-linking induces a phosphorylated zeta-protein that migrates as a dimer at 42 kDa in SDS-PAGE and differs from the 38-kDa phosphorylated zeta-protein dimer induced by TCR/CD3 cross-linking. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the p56lck tyrosine kinase is tyrosine phosphorylated following MHC-I ligation, and that a p56lck-negative Jurkat T cell mutant does not induce phosphorylation of the zeta-chain and the ZAP70 kinase following MHC-I ligation. Previous studies have demonstrated that lack or diminished activation of ZAP70 is involved in the induction of anergy or apoptosis in T cells. Likewise, MHC-I cross-linking of Jurkat T cells results in growth arrest and induction of apoptosis that is strongly inhibited by herbimycin A, suggesting an essential role of tyrosine kinase activity in the process leading to apoptosis.