Individual and combined effects of several isomers of retinoic acid (RA) and 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 (1,25-(OH)2D3) on interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) secretion by blood mononuclear leukocytes (MNL) from nulliparous and postparturient Holstein cattle were evaluated in vitro. In the first experiment, effects on incubation period (24 to 72 hours) and time of supplementation (0 to 32 hours) with all-trans, 9-cis, 13-cis-, and 9,13-dicis-RAs (0 to 100 nM) on IFN-gamma secretion by pokeweed mitogen (PWM)-stimulated (0 and 10 micrograms/ml) MNL from nulliparous cattle were evaluated. In the second experiment, MNL from postparturient cows (bled at 0, 2, 4, and 16 days postpartum) were stimulated with PWM (0 and 10 micrograms/ml) in the presence of RA isomers (9-cis- or 9,13-dicis-RA; 0 to 100 nM), 1,25-(OH)2D3 (0 to 100 nM), or with combinations of these metabolites. The results show that individual isomers of RA had no effect on IFN-gamma secretion by PWM-stimulated MNL from nulliparous or postparturient cows. Furthermore 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 inhibited IFN-gamma secretion by MNL from nulliparous and postparturient dairy cows; however, the degree of inhibition was greater when 9-cis- and 9,13-dicis-RA were also present in the cultures. Finally mononuclear leukocytes from postparturient dairy cows produced substantially less IFN-gamma than did MNL from nulliparous cattle. It is concluded that retinoic acids individually did not affect the capacity of leukocytes from dairy cattle to secrete IFN-gamma. This result is in marked contrast to studies in monogastric species indicating that RAs inhibit IFN-gamma secretion by peripheral blood T cells. Inhibition of IFN-gamma secretion by 1,25-(OH)2D3 was potentiated by 9-cis- and 9,13-di-cis-retinoics acids, suggesting that an excess of dietary vitamins A and D may compromise further the naturally immunosuppressed postparturient dairy cow. Additional research is necessary to determine if the combined effects of these metabolites on IFN-gamma secretion represent an increased susceptibility of the dairy cow to infectious diseases during the periparturient period. Lower secretion of IFN-gamma by MNL from postpartutient dairy cows, relative to nulliparous cattle, suggests that recently-calved cows are naturally immunosuppressed.