Previous studies have shown that interleukin 2 (IL2) production by peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) is severely impaired post allogeneic bone marrow transplantation, whereas production of interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) is at most marginally depressed. To investigate the mechanisms behind this apparently differential inhibition of lymphokine production, we stimulated PBMC from recipients of HLA-identical sibling bone marrow transplants with phytohaemagglutinin (PHA), PHA + phorbol ester (PMA) (to bypass accessory cell requirements) or Ca++ ionophore + PMA (to bypass both accessory cell and T cell surface receptor (CD2 and/or CD3/Ti interactions). Increasing the potency of the stimulus increased the amount of IL2 and IFN produced by PBMC from both normal volunteers and from marrow transplant recipients, but for each stimulus the amount of IL2 produced by marrow transplant recipient PBMC remained 10-100-fold lower than that produced by normal PBMC, suggesting an underlying defect in IL2 production by marrow transplant recipient T cells, not due to accessory cell or CD2 defects. Selection experiments showed that CD3+ cells were the primary IL2 producers, and we were unable to demonstrate presence of suppressor cells in marrow transplant PBMC. Statistical analysis of the clinical factors possibly affecting lymphokine synthesis showed that in vivo cyclosporin A did not affect the in vitro capacity of PBMC to produce cytokines, although steroid therapy had a negative effect on IL2 production. The only variable significantly affecting IL2 and IFN production in marrow transplant recipients was increasing time post transplant. It is suggested that the defect in IL2 but not IFN production could be due to either a selective reduction in the frequency of IL2 producing cells as opposed to IFN producing cells, or to a reduction in the amount of IL2 produced per cell in marrow transplant recipients.