Human peripheral blood T-lymphocytes, normally resting at the G0 phase, were stimulated with phytohemagglutinin (PHA) and interleukin-2 (IL-2) to induce the cell division cycle. The cells were examined at 24-h intervals for up to 96 h by flow cytometry to determine cell cycle distributions and by electrorotation to determine dielectric properties. The average membrane specific capacitance was found to vary from 12 (+/-1.5) mF/m2 prior to stimulation to 10 (+/-1.5) and 16 (+/-3.5) mF/m2 at 24 and 48 h after stimulation, respectively, and to remain unchanged up to 96 h after stimulation. Scanning electron microscopy studies of the cells revealed an increased complexity in cell membrane morphology following stimulation, suggesting that the observed change in the membrane capacitance was dominated by the alteration of cell surface structures. The average electrical conductivity of the cell interior decreased from approximately 1.1 S/m prior to stimulation to approximately 0.8 S/m at 24 h after stimulation and showed little change thereafter. The average dielectric permittivity of the cell interior remained almost unchanged throughout the course of the cell stimulation. The percentage of T-lymphocytes in the S and G2/M phases increased from approximately 4% prior to stimulation to approximately 11 and approximately 34% at 24 and 48 h after stimulation, respectively. The large change in membrane specific capacitance between the 24 and 48 h time period coincided with the large alteration in the cell cycle distribution where the S and G2/M populations increased by approximately 23%. These data, together with an analysis of the variation of the membrane capacitance during the cell cycle based on the cell cycle-dependent membrane lipid accumulation, show that there is a correlation between membrane capacitance and cell cycle phases that reflects alterations in the cell plasma membrane.