The murine T cell surface molecules Ly-6C and Thy-1 are genetically and structurally distinct, yet they share two interesting properties: both are attached to the plasma membrane through a glycophosphatidylinositol linkage, and some mAb reactive with these molecules can activate T cells. Although mAb for Ly-6C and Thy-1 appear to mimic the function of physiologic ligands, direct evidence for the existence of these putative ligands has not been presented. In this report, we describe CTL clones that use Ly-6C and Thy-1 as accessory molecules for activation of cytolysis and the production of IFN-gamma based on inhibition of these functions with mAb. These studies were facilitated by the derivation of a nonactivating hamster IgM mAb specific for Ly-6C. CTL clones that use Ly-6C and Thy-1 as accessory molecules include a subpopulation of the previously described CD8+ alloreactive CTL that are not inhibited by mAb reactive with CD8, a CD8+ TCR-alpha/beta+ T cell clone specific for HSV glycoprotein D, and a CD4-CD8- TCR-gamma/delta+ T cell clone specific for HSV glycoprotein I. The role of Ly-6C and Thy-1 in target cell recognition is to some degree tissue-specific with respect to the APC/target cell. A mAb specific for Ly-6C appears to inhibit activation by prevention of adhesion between the effector cells and the target cells. This is the most direct evidence to date of a functional ligand for Ly-6C.