In the studies reported here, we have analyzed the production and consumption of T cell growth factor, more recently termed interleukin 2 (IL-2), as well as some cell-mediated immune functions, in murine strains [MRL, BXSB, NZB, and (NZB x NZWF1] manifesting systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)-like syndromes. Young (4-6 wk) or old (4-8 mo) autoimmune or normal mice were studied and compared with regard to the following T cell functions in vitro after stimulation with concanavalin A (Con A): (a) mitogenic response; (b) IL-2 levels in culture supernates; and (c) the ability to respond to and adsorb IL-2. In addition, proliferative activity in the allogeneic mixed leukocyte culture and frequency of alloreactive cytotoxic T lymphocyte precursors (CTLp) were analyzed in some of these strains. Reduced Con A-induced mitogenic responses and IL-2 production appeared at 3-6 wk of age in the early, severe SLE developing strains MRL-Mp-lpr/lpr (MRL/l) and male BXSB and progressed thereafter. Similar defects appeared at a later stage in MRL/Mp-+/+ and (NZB x NZW)F1 hybrid mice, which develop late disease. Detailed analysis of cells from the enlarged lymph nodes and spleens of older MRL/l mice demonstrated that such cells: (a) responded poorly to Con A or allogeneic stimulator cells, even in the presence of exogenous IL-2; (b) did not suppress IL-2 production by normal spleen cells; (c) were relatively incapable of adsorbing or inactivating IL-2; and (d) had a markedly reduced anti-H-2b CTLp frequency in the mesenteric lymph nodes but a normal one in spleen. These results indicate that the proliferating Thy-1.2+, Lyt-1+ T cells in MRL/l mice are defective in their responses to mitogenic stimuli, in IL-2 production, and in expression of acceptor sites for IL-2. The relevance of these defects to the MRL/l disease as well as to the role of IL-2 in autoimmunity in general remains to be determined.