Human T leukemia cell lines spontaneously release into their medium a suppressor lymphokine, T leukemia-derived suppressor lymphokine (TLSL), able to inhibit proliferation, DNA synthesis, and colony formation in a variety of malignant hemopoietic cell lines, as well as in normal myelomonocytic progenitor cells from bone marrow and peripheral blood. Titration curves indicated that the inhibitory activity in the crude supernatant preparations ranged from 10(-3)-10(-9): the supernatants from CCRF/CEM, HUT-78, and MOLT-4 cell lines were the most active, those from HPB-ALL, JM, and CCRF/HSB2 displayed an intermediate activity, and the Jurkat supernatant was the least active. Target cell lines of B cell origin (Burkitt lymphomas) were more sensitive than granulocytic, monocytic, erythroid, and T cell lines. Partial purification by ammonium sulfate precipitation and column chromatography demonstrated that TLSL is a protein with an Mr of 88,000, as determined by gel filtration. A high Mr form (greater than 300,000) was produced in serum-free medium by one of the most active producer cell lines (CCRF/CEM), and appeared to be an aggregate of the 88,000 Mr form. Neither the partially purified fractions obtained nor the crude supernatant preparations displayed antiviral activity or contained interleukin 2. Unlike lymphotoxin and tumor necrosis factor, TLSL is cytostatic: maximal inhibition of proliferation was observed 4-5 d after addition of crude supernatant to the target cells, and was not accompanied by a significant loss in cell viability. The antiproliferative capacity of TLSL was manifested both in suspension and methylcellulose cultures. Treated target cells accumulated either in the G1 or in the S phase of the cell cycle. The effect of TLSL on the target cells is irreversible: even brief (1 h) incubation of sensitive cells with TLSL resulted in inhibition of proliferation measured 5 d later. Although TLSL is produced by leukemic T cell lines, this lymphokine inhibits proliferation of normal peripheral blood T cells in response to mitogens or alloantigens: T lymphocyte activation was inhibited by all of the T cell supernatants tested. In contrast, when T cell lines were used as targets, no inhibition of proliferation was detected with two exceptions: the low producer Jurkat cell line was sensitive to all the T cell-derived supernatants, and the intermediate producer CCRF/HSB2 cell line was sensitive only to the three most active supernatants, CCRF/CEM, MOLT-4, and HUT-78. The possible significance of TLSL and its relationship with other suppressor lymphokines previously described in other systems is discussed.