Delayed-type hypersensitivity (DTH) is a prototypic T lymphocyte-mediated response to antigenic challenge. In this study, mononuclear cells infiltrating the skin during cutaneous response to tuberculin in presensitized human subjects (responders) and nonimmune controls were identified using monoclonal antibodies by indirect immunofluorescence. In both responders and controls the infiltrate consisted mainly of T lymphocytes (T11+ and OKT3+) and monocytes (OKM1+, 63D3+, Mo2+) which initially accumulated in proximity to small blood vessels and later infiltrated the interstitial dermis and epidermis. More T lymphocytes reacted with OKT4 than with OKT8. 6 h after tuberculin the ratio of OKT4/OKT8 in tissue from responders exceeded that in blood, whereas in tissues studied at 15-48 h and in all control tissues those ratios in blood and tissue were similar. Evidence of T lymphocyte activation was sought using monoclonal antibodies anti-Tac, OKT9, and OKT10. In responders but not in controls the proportion of infiltrating cells reactive with these antibodies increased during the course of DTH. The presence of activated T lymphocytes in tissue was not associated with a comparable increase in peripheral blood cell populations identified by anti-Tac and OKT10. Studies using anti-B1, Leu-7, and anti-IgD/IgM revealed comparatively few reactive cells. Dual-labeling studies demonstrated that most Leu-7--reactive cells also bound T11 while fewer bound OKM1 or OKT8 and that cells reactive with OKIa1 and T11 constituted largely nonoverlapping populations. Specific patterns of reactivity were not observed when tissues were stained with anti-human C3, or poly C9-MA, a monoclonal antibody reactive with a neoantigen on polymerized C9 of the membrane attack complex of complement. The number of epidermal Langerhans cells identified by OKT6 was similar in responders and controls. Thus, the cutaneous response to tuberculin in sensitized individuals is characterized by early enrichment of the OKT4 subpopulation of T lymphocytes in tissue infiltrates and subsequent (15-48 h) evidence of T lymphocyte activation.