B7-1 and B7-2 are important costimulatory molecules in the activation of T cell immunity. We have used mice made genetically deficient in either or both B7 molecules to determine the role of B7 molecules in activation of primary alloreactive CTL. The absence of either B7-1 or B7-2 did not alter generation of CTL from unfractionated lymphocytes, but the absence of B7-2 greatly decreased CTL generation from purified CD8+ responder cells. However, if B7-1 was induced on the stimulating cells then CTL generation was restored to wild-type levels. Absence of both B7-1 and B7-2 from MLR using whole splenocytes resulted in a profound reduction in generation of CTL. This could completely be reversed by the addition of IL-2. B7 molecules could directly costimulate CD8+ cells, as purified CD8+ cells developed into mature CTL when stimulated with wild-type APC, but not with B7-deficient APC. Again, IL-2 could drive CTL generation from purified CD8+ cells, even in the absence of B7 molecules. Taken together, these results demonstrate an important role for B7 costimulation in CTL generation.