Soluble anti-HLA class I monoclonal antibodies (MoAbs) modulate normal T-lymphocyte proliferation induced via the CD3/Ti and the CD2 pathway, but do not induce proliferation of normal T lymphocytes in the absence of additional mitogenic stimuli. In this report, we show that anti-HLA class I MoAbs induce DNA synthesis in peripheral blood mononuclear cells from a patient with a CD4+CD8+T-prolymphocytic leukemia (T-PLL) and from a patient with a CD4-CD8+ T-chronic lymphocytic leukemia (T- CLL), in the absence of detectable additional mitogenic stimuli. Proliferation of leukemic T cells is induced by both whole Igs and Fab' fragments of anti-HLA class I MoAbs, arguing in favor of their direct interactions with the proliferating cells as the mechanism underlying the mitogenic effect. This interpretation is also supported by the ability of anti-HLA class I MoAbs to induce proliferation of leukemic T- cell preparations, depleted of accessory cells. DNA synthesis in T-CLL and T-PLL cells is preceded by expression of G1-specific messenger RNAs, ie. c-myc, 2F1, Tac, and interferon-gamma, in activated cells. Cell proliferation is inhibited by the protein kinase C inhibitor H7, indicating that activation of this enzyme is required for the mitogenic effect of anti-HLA class I MoAbs. The latter inhibit the proliferation of T-CLL cells as well as that of normal T cells stimulated with anti- CD3 MoAbs and enhance that of both types of cells stimulated with anti- CD2 MoAbs. In addition, anti-HLA class I MoAb Q6/64 in combination with anti-CD2 MoAb 9.6 or MoAb 9–1 induces proliferation of leukemic T cells to a greater extent than the individual MoAbs, but is not mitogenic for normal T cells. Anti-HLA class I MoAbs restore the cytolytic activity of T-CLL cells that is lost after 5 days of incubation of control medium, suggesting that HLA class I antigens may mediate a signal contributing to the activation state. The present results indicate that leukemic T-cell proliferation can be triggered via HLA class I molecules and suggest a potential role for these antigens in the in vivo growth of malignant clones.