In a previous report, we have demonstrated the induction of tumor-specific immunity by monoclonal anti-idiotype antibodies generated against a monoclonal anti-tumor antibody, 11C1, that also cross-reacts with mouse mammary tumor virus envelope glycoprotein gp52. Also, we showed that whereas one anti-idiotype antibody, 2F10, could induce protective immunity, another anti-idiotype antibody, 3A4, induced nonprotective immunity. Here we demonstrated the existence of T helper cells which recognize anti-idiotypes that exert differential controls on tumor growth. The qualitative nature of idiotype recognizing T cells generated in response to 2F10, 3A4, irradiated tumor, and progressively growing tumor was compared. The reactivity pattern of idiotype recognizing T cells obtained from 2F10 and irradiated tumor immunized mice were similar in nature in the sense that Lyt-2- T cells obtained from these immunized mice responded to both 2F10 and 3A4 as antigen, although T cells from tumor immunized mice responded better to 3A4 antigen. On the other hand, the idiotype-recognizing T cells obtained from 3A4-immunized mice showed a similar reactivity pattern to T cells isolated from mice during the early phase of tumor growth (within day 4 to 5 after the inoculation of 10(4) live tumor cells). Lyt-2- T cells isolated from mice immunized with 3A4 or during the early phase of tumor growth responded only to 3A4 antigen. The inability of Lyt-2- T cells, isolated from 4- to 5-day-old tumor in mice, to cooperate with 2F10-TNP is not due to the absence of 2F10 idiotype recognizing T cells as 2F10 id recognizing T cells are present when examined at the precursor level. These data on the idiotype specificity of T helper cells show a correlation with the presence of anti-tumor immunity. This information will help in the design and application of idiotype vaccine in tumor immunotherapy.