Abstract The molecular basis for T cell activation involves the phosphorylation of polypeptides at both serines and tyrosines. We find that with human peripheral T cells the serine phosphorylation of p56 lck is independent of the more rapid tyrosine phosphorylation of other polypeptides via stimulation of the CD2 receptor with anti-CD2 (anti-T11 2 and anti-T11 3 mAb's). Triton X-100 soluble polypeptides were analyzed by Western blotting with the subsequent immunodetection by anti-phosphotyrosine or anti-lck antibodies. While polypeptides from resting T cells showed very low levels of endogenous tyrosine phosphorylation, incubation with anti-CD2 for periods as short as 30 sec resulted in the tyrosine phosphorylation of a 75-kDa polypeptide (p75). Polypeptide bands were also observed at 27 and 54 kDa, but these were artifacts from the reaction of anti-CD2 with the horse anti-mouse secondary antibody used in our detection system. Preincubation of T cells with phenylarsine oxide amplified the anti-CD2-induced tyrosine phosphorylation of the p75 and revealed additional phosphotyrosine polypeptides of 120, 100, and 33 kDa. The mitogenic combination of phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA) with anti-CD2 changed neither the intensity nor the pattern of the tyrosine phosphorylation observed with anti-CD2 alone. The tyrosine phosphorylation of the p75 was not induced by concanavalin A (Con A) or PMA. While PMA alone failed to stimulate tyrosine phosphorylation above resting levels, PMA induced the nearly complete conversion of p56 lck into p60 lck (the lck-shift) at 30 min; no lck-shift was observed at 30 and 90 sec. Neither anti-CD2 nor Con A induced the lck-shift. Whereas PMA with either anti-CD2 or Con A was required for mitogenesis, only anti-CD2 led to tyrosine phosphorylation, and only PMA induced the lck-shift.