Like other cells, T cells are dependent on signals from their environment for their survival. Resting T cells are supported in vitro by cytokines such as interleukin (IL)-4, IL-6 and IL-7. The latter two cytokines are made constitutively in animals and hence might affect the lifetimes of their resting T cells. Resting T cells are also kept alive by interaction with an as yet unidentified molecule on the surface of other cells. Activated T cells are also supported in vitro by members of two families of these proteins, the IL-2 family and the interferon-αβ family. Members of the latter family may have effects on activated cells in vivo. Thus although both resting and activated T cells require signals to keep themselves alive, the signals are different for the two types of cells. This perhaps allows the immune response to control the numbers of activated cells during infections without compromising its pool of precursor, resting T cells.