The purpose of these studies was to assess the effects of 7,12-dimethylbenz(a)anthracene (DMBA), an immunosuppressive polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH), on Ca+2 mobilization induced by phytohemagglutinin (PHA) in the Jurkat human T cell line. Intracellular levels of free cytosolic Ca+2 were examined by flow cytometry using Indo-1 loaded cells. At doses of 3-30 microM, DMBA was found to produce a dose and time-dependent inhibition of Ca+2 mobilization in Jurkat following in vitro exposure. The decrease in Ca+2 mobilization was correlated with an increase in baseline levels of cytoplasmic free Ca+2. Two non-immunosuppressive PAH, benzo(e)pyrene and anthracene, failed to inhibit PHA-induced Ca+2 mobilization or alter baseline levels of free Ca+2. These results suggest that DMBA may produce immunosuppression by inhibiting Ca+2 mobilization or by altering Ca+2 homeostasis in activated T cells.