Discordant xenogeneic transplantation offers a potentially unlimited source of donor organs from easily bred, nonendangered, physiologically compatible animals, but has been limited by the inevitable occurrence of hyperacute rejection (HAR). The potential existence of cell-mediated discordant graft rejection has remained obscured by HAR, and hence is incompletely understood. To define the cellular elements capable of recognition of and subsequent response against discordant tissue in a clinically applicable species combination, we have studied the in vitro interaction of human peripheral blood lymphocytes against 3 porcine B lymphoblastoid cell lines and 6 primary porcine endothelial cell populations. PBL from all individuals tested (n=10) proliferated in response to culture for 72 hr in xenogeneic mixed lymphocyte culture (XMLC) with cell lines expressing porcine MHC (SLA) class II antigens, while endothelial cultures lacking SLA class II generally failed to evoke a response. The proliferative response to class II-positive cells was attenuated by addition of anti-SLA class II antibody but not by anti-SLA class I antibody. Two endothelial populations expressing class II stimulated an inhibitable proliferative response. The magnitude of the short-term proliferative xenogeneic response was similar to that evoked by fully mismatched allogeneic human B lymphoblastoid stimulators. Additionally, extended XMLC was performed with PBL from 3 individuals. All populations responded with continued proliferation when repeatedly stimulated by porcine cells. This was characterized not only by T cell growth, but by prominent NK cell growth as well. Elucidation of the TCR Vβ chain usage patterns by semi-quantitative PCR documented selection of TCR transcripts from gene family Vβ 2 in each group, complemented by a heterogeneous mixture of other transcripts including Vβ 17.1, 20.1, and 6.1, suggesting that direct human TCR binding of porcine cells occurs, and that it is likely to be an individualistic response complemented by a more homogeneous NK response. A 51Cr release assay was utilized to demonstrate that unprimed PBL could also lyse porcine target cells. This cytotoxic response was maintained despite the complete removal of T cells, suggesting that porcine-directed NK cell activity is present prior to the maturation of any T cell response. Cytolysis was also demonstrated in serum-free medium and thus was not mediated solely by antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity. Chinese hamster ovary cells transfected with the human T cell receptor accessory molecule CD4 were used to study the ability of this molecule to stabilize the interaction between the human TCR and SLA class II. Strong binding was demonstrated in 2 of 3 porcine lines tested, indicating that some but not all porcine class II alleles can be bound by human CD4. These data demonstrate that a human T and NK cell-mediated response directed against discordant porcine antigens, most notably SLA class II, is physiologically possible given successful abrogation of HAR. The T cell recognition of xenogeneic class II may be facilitated by direct TCR binding with stabilization of this interaction by CD4, but a cytotoxic NK response may precede the maturation of specific T cell recognition.