T lymphocytes are activated by the engagement of their antigen receptors (TCRs) with complexes of peptide and major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules displayed on the cell surface of antigen-presenting cells (APCs) . An unresolved question of antigen recognition by T cells is how TCR triggering actually occurs at the cell-cell contact area. We visualized T-cell-APC contact sites using confocal microscopy and three-dimensional reconstruction of z-sections. We show the rapid formation of a specialized signaling domain at the T-cell-APC contact site that is characterized by a broad and sustained area of tyrosine phosphorylation. The T-lymphocyte cell-surface molecule CD2 is rapidly recruited into this signaling domain, whereas TCRs progressively percolate from the entire T-cell surface into the phosphorylation area. Remarkably, the highly expressed phosphatase CD45 is excluded from the signaling domain. Our results indicate that physiological TCR triggering at the T-cell-APC contact site is the result of a localized alteration in the balance between cellular kinases and phosphatases. We therefore provide experimental evidence to support current models of T-cell activation based on CD45 exclusion from the TCR signaling area   .