The B7/BB1 molecule has recently been found to be expressed on professional antigen-presenting cells and to be the natural ligand for CD28 and CTLA-4 on T cells. On binding of B7/BB1, CD28 transduces a signal that synergizes with triggering of the T-cell antigen receptor, resulting in enhanced cytokine secretion. In view of the data supporting an antigen-presenting function of Reed-Sternberg cells, we evaluated the expression of B7/BB1 in lymph nodes affected by Hodgkin's disease. B7/BB1 was found to be strongly expressed by the Reed-Sternberg cells in all 47 cases of Hodgkin's disease studied. Moreover, Reed-Sternberg cells were frequently surrounded by CD28-expressing T cells. Evidence for a functional role of B7/BB1 on Reed-Sternberg cells was obtained by our findings that T-cell proliferation and interleukin-2 (IL-2) production in the primary allogenic mixed lymphocyte reaction (MLR), using the B7/BB1-expressing Hodgkin's disease-derived cell lines L428 and KM-H2 as stimulators, could be partially blocked by adding anti-B7 monoclonal antibody. B7/BB1 expression was also evaluated in a group of non-Hodgkin's lymphomas (n = 46). Whereas B7/BB1 was not expressed by the neoplastic cells of most non-Hodgkin's lymphomas, including T-cell-rich B-cell lymphoma (n = 11), it was present on the neoplastic cells of anaplastic large-cell lymphoma (Ki-1 lymphoma) (n = 5) and follicular lymphoma (n = 4). Our data provide further evidence for an accessory cell function of Reed-Sternberg cells. The accessory cell function of Reed-Sternberg cells might lead to pronounced T-cell activation in vivo, which might contribute to the Hodgkin's syndrome. In addition, our study indicates that B7/BB1 may be a useful marker for differentiating Hodgkin's disease from morphologically similar conditions such as T-cell-rich B-cell lymphoma.