Requirements for the activation and proliferation of gammadelta T cells were investigated. Maximum numbers of gammadelta T cells expressed the IL-2R alpha-chain after 6-h Con A stimulation in peripheral blood, efferent lymph, and afferent lymph. In comparison, IL-2R alpha-chain expression on CD4 T cells only reached maximum levels in response to Con A stimulation in peripheral blood and afferent lymph populations. Analysis of enriched gammadelta T cells demonstrated that Con A-induced expression of the IL-2R alpha-chain was independent of APC. Together, these data suggest that the requirements for gammadelta T cell activation are less stringent than those for alphabeta T cell activation. Unfractionated peripheral blood, efferent lymph, and afferent lymph cell populations proliferated in response to Con A alone. In contrast, enriched gammadelta T cells (CD4/CD8 depleted) from efferent lymph did not proliferate in response to Con A alone, but required the addition of IL-2. This requirement for exogenous IL-2 could be overcome by the addition of dendritic cells purified from afferent lymph. These results suggested that gammadelta T cells required costimulatory signals provided by APC to ensure the production of sufficient IL-2 to drive proliferation. CD28 and CTLA-4 mRNA were detected in efferent lymph and afferent lymph populations containing CD4 and CD8 T cells stimulated with Con A and IL-2 or with Con A alone, respectively. In contrast, negligible levels of these mRNA species were detected in efferent and afferent lymph populations devoid of CD4 and CD8 T cells. These results suggest that ovine gammadelta T cells may use alternative costimulatory pathways.