Spleen cells of diabetes-prone BB Wistar rats were found to generate excessively low proliferative responses, and interleukin 2 (IL-2) levels in response to T-dependent mitogens. This abnormality was not due solely to abnormal T cell numbers since: (a) addition of BB spleen cells of BB splenic macrophages to normal major histocompatibility complex (MHC)-matched Wistar Furth (WF) spleen cells resulted in severe suppression of concanavalin A (Con A)-, phytohemagglutinin (PHA)-, and pokeweed mitogen (PWM)-mediated proliferation, and IL-2 production; (b) macrophage depletion from BB spleen cells, but not B cell or T cell depletion, removed completely the suppressive effects of BB cells on WF cells; (c) macrophage depletion greatly enhanced the response of BB lymphocytes to T-dependent mitogens. Although suppressor macrophages could also be found in the spleen of WF control rats they were present in much smaller numbers than in the spleen of BB rats. The suppressive effect of BB macrophages was partially reduced by addition of the prostaglandin synthetase inhibitor indomethacin to cultures. Furthermore, indomethacin (but not catalase or PMA) considerably augmented IL-2 secretion of Con A-stimulated BB spleen cells, but had little effect on WF spleen cells. In contrast, prostaglandins E1 and E2 (PGE1 and PGE2) suppressed IL-2 production. While IL-2 secretion was severely depressed in BB rats unstimulated and lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-stimulated IL-1 secretion by splenic macrophages was normal. BB macrophages did not inactivate IL-2. Low IL-2 production and macrophage-mediated suppression were features of all BB rats tested.