We analyzed peripheral blood leukemic cells from six patients with T cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia (T-CLL) with monoclonal antibodies including the anti-Tac antibody, which recognizes the receptor for interleukin 2 (IL 2). The patients were divided into two groups according to the reactivity of the monoclonal antibodies. Leukemic cells from three patients with T-CLL reacted with OKT3 and T4 but not T8, whereas those from the remaining three patients reacted with OKT3 and T8 but not T4. IL 2 receptor, which is expressed on activated T cells but not on resting T cells, was preferentially expressed on T4+ T- CLL cells. The IL 2 receptor on T4+ T-CLL cells was indistinguishable from that on normal activated T cells with respect to molecular weight and downregulation by the anti-Tac antibody. Moreover, fresh T4+ T-CLL cells, but not T8+ T-CLL cells, proliferated in response to exogenous IL 2 without prior activation, and this proliferation was inhibited by the anti-Tac antibody. These results suggest that malignant growth of T4+ T-CLL cells can be regulated by IL 2 not only in vitro but also in vivo.