Cognate interactions between antigen-presenting B and T cells play crucial roles in immunologic responses. T cells that have been activated via the crosslinking of CD3 are able to induce B cell proliferation and immunoglobulin secretion in a major histocompatibility complex-unrestricted and contact-dependent manner. We find that such activated human CD4+ T cells, but not control Ig- treated T cells, may induce normal or leukemic B cells to express B7/BB1 and significantly higher levels of CD54 intercellular adhesion molecule 1 via a process that also requires direct cell-cell contact. To discern what cell surface molecule(s) may be responsible for signalling B cells to express B7/BB1, we added various monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) specific for T or B cell accessory molecules or control mAbs to cocultures of alpha-CD3-activated T cells and resting B cells. We find that only alpha-CD40 mAbs can significantly inhibit the increased expression of B7/BB1, suggesting that the ligand for CD40 expressed on activated T cells may be an important inducer of B7/BB1 expression. Subsequent experiments in fact demonstrate that alpha-CD40 mAbs, but not control mAbs, induce changes in B cell phenotype similar to those induced by activated T cells when the mAbs are presented on Fc gamma RII (CDw32)-expressing L cells. These phenotypic changes have significant effects on B cell function. Whereas chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) B cells normally are very poor stimulators in allogeneic mixed lymphocyte reactions (MLRs), CLL-B cells preactivated via CD40 crosslinking are significantly better presenters of alloantigen, affecting up to 30-fold-greater stimulation of T cell proliferation than that induced by control treated or nontreated CLL-B cells. Similarly, the MLR of T cells stimulated by allogeneic nonleukemic B cells can be enhanced significantly if the stimulator B cells are preactivated via CD40 crosslinking. The enhanced MLR generated by such preactivated B cells may be inhibited by blocking B7/BB1-CD28 interaction with CTLA4Ig. These studies demonstrate a novel, CD40- dependent pathway for inducing B cell expression of B7/BB1 and enhancing B cell antigen-presenting cell activity that can be initiated via cell-cell contact with alpha-CD3-stimulated CD4+ T cells.