The effect of two anti-CD45 (T200, LCA, Ly5) antibodies on the activation of the murine T-cell hybridoma 13.13 has been evaluated. These studies have been carried out in a system that did not require cross-linking or coclustering of antibodies. Activation of 13.13 cells with the anti-CD3 monoclonal antibody, 145.2C11, gave rise to rapid increases in intracellular calcium and interleukin-2 production. Additionally, within 1 min, phosphorylation on tyrosine of four major proteins of about 130,000, 110,000, 80,000, and 37,000 daltons could be seen. Pretreatment of the cells with the anti-CD45 mAb M1/89.18.7.HK markedly inhibited all three biological responses, while an alternate anti-CD45 antibody, M1/9.3.4.HL.2, had little effect. The two antibodies bound to CD45 with similar affinities, and no differences in the lateral mobility of antibody-CD45 complexes in the cell membrane were observed. The inhibition of activation of the cells by M1/89.18.7.HK was abrogated significantly both by the phosphotyrosine protein phosphatase inhibitor orthovanadate and by excess M1/9.3.4.HL.2. If M1/89.18.7.HK was added to the 13.13 cells after they had already been activated with anti-CD3, it very effectively stimulated dephosphorylation of substrates that had been phosphorylated on tyrosines prior to adding the anti-CD45 antibody. These results indicate that the phosphotyrosine protein phosphatase activity of CD45 is critical to its biological function and that bivalent (i.e. uncross-linked) anti-CD45 antibodies can give rise to markedly different responses. One of the antibodies, M1/89.18.7.HK, appears to behave much like a receptor ligand and is able to activate the enzymatic activity associated with the CD45 transmembrane protein.