Cytotoxic lymphocyte (CTL) responses are not usually generated during primary mixed leukocyte culture (MLC) with H-2 identical cells. Thus NZB mice are unusual in that their spleen cells do mount CTL responses during primary MLC with H-2(d) identical stimulator cells; the predominant target antigen for these NZB responses is Qa-1b. Considering the numerous immunoregulatory defects in NZB mice, we postulated that these NZB anti-Qa-1 primary CTL responses were due to an abnormality in T suppressor cell activity. Cellular interactions capable of suppressing NZB anti-Qa-1 primary CTL responses were investigated by using one-way and two-way MLC with spleen cells from NZB mice and other H-2(d) strains. Although H-2(d) identical one-way MLC with the use of NZB responders resulted in substantial CTL responses, only minimal CTL responses were detected from two-way MLC with the use of NZB spleen cells plus nonirradiated spleen cells from other H-2(d) mice. Thus the presence of non-NZB spleen cells in the two-way H-2(d) identical MLC prevented the generation of NZB CTL. Noncytotoxic mechanisms were implicated in the suppression of the NZB CTL responses during two-way MLC, because only minimal CTL activity was generated when NZB spleen cells were cultured with semiallogeneic, H-2(d) identical (e.g., NZB x BALB)F1 spleen cells. The observed suppression could be abrogated with as little as 100 rad γ-irradiation to the non-NZB spleen cells. The phenotype of these highly radiosensitive spleen cells were Thy-1+, Lyt-1+, Lyt-2-, L3T4+. The functional presence of these cells in the spleens of semiallogeneic, H-2(d) identical F1 mice indicated that their deficiency in NZB mice was a recessive trait. These data suggest that NZB mice lack an L3T4+ cell present in the spleens of normal mice that is capable of suppressing primary anti-Qa-1 CTL responses. This model system should facilitate additional investigations of the cellular interactions and immunoregulatory mechanisms responsible for controlling primary CTL responses against non-H-2K/D class I alloantigens. The model may also provide insight into the immunoregulatory defects of autoimmune NZB mice.