L-Asparaginase has long been used in the treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia or malignant lymphoma in childhood. To determine cell type specific sensitivity to this drug, the L-asparaginase-mediated inhibition of blastogenesis of human peripheral T or B lymphocytes was compared. The rate of incorporation of [3H]-thymidine into the DNA of either T lymphocytes due to phytohemagglutinin (PHA) or B lymphocytes due to Staphylococcus aureus Cowan I (SAC) was measured by the addition of Escherichia coli L-asparaginase in the medium. The blastogenic response of either T or B lymphocytes was also determined in medium depleted of exogenous asparagine and/or glutamine, both of which are hydrolyzed by this enzyme. The in vitro blastogenesis of either human T lymphocytes due to PHA or B lymphocytes due to SAC was inhibited by the inclusion of asparaginase in the medium. The deprivation of exogenous asparagine did not have any inhibitory effect on the blastogenic response of both T and B lymphocytes to each mitogen. On the other hand, the glutamine concentration in the culture medium provided a critical influence on the proliferative response of T and B lymphocytes. The rate of incorporation of [3H]-thymidine into DNA was increased markedly as the concentration of glutamine was increased from 2(-7)-2 mmol/l. It is concluded that the mechanism of inhibition of PHA- or SAC-stimulated lymphocyte blastogenesis by L-asparaginase is not asparagine deprivation but glutamine deprivation. Glutamine, which is the most abundant amino acid, is thought to have an important role in the immune response of lymphocytes.