Clarification of the precise role of protein kinase C (PKC) in cellular functional responses has been hampered by a lack of potent, selective inhibitors. The structural lead provided by staurosporine, a potent but non-selective protein kinase (PK) inhibitor, was used to derive a series of bis(indolyl)maleimides of which the most potent, Ro 31-8425 (I50: PKC = 8 nM) showed 350-fold selectivity for PKC over cAMP-dependent protein kinase. Ro 31-8425 antagonised cellular processes triggered by phorbol esters (potent, specific PKC activators) and inhibited the allogeneic mixed lymphocyte reaction, suggesting a role for PKC in T-cell activation. Methylation of the primary amine in Ro 31-8425 produced an analogue. Ro 31-8830 which, when administered orally, produced a dose-dependent inhibition of a phorbol ester-induced paw oedema in mice (minimum effective dose = 15 mg/kg). Ro 31-8830 also selectively inhibited the secondary inflammation in a developing adjuvant arthritis model in the rat. The results presented here suggest that these selective inhibitors of PKC may have therapeutic value in the treatment of T-cell-mediated autoimmune diseases.