It has been documented that interleukin-6 (IL-6) supports the proliferation of purified, anti-CD3-stimulated murine T cells. We found that stimulation of human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) with anti-CD3 induced a significant accumulation of IL-6 mRNA, indicating that antigen-mediated T-cell activation may involve IL-6 release from accessory cells. Phytohemagglutinin (PHA) had little effect upon IL-6 gene expression. In keeping with these findings, anti-IL-6 reduced but did not abolish anti-CD3-mediated proliferation of PBMCs, but had no significant effect upon PHA-stimulated proliferation. The addition of recombinant (r) IL-6 enhanced the proliferation of anti-CD3-stimulated PBMCs and increased the accumulation of IL-2 mRNA in PHA-stimulated PBMCs during the first 5 hr of culture. Nuclear run-off experiments did not reveal significant changes in IL-2 transcription in PHA plus rIL-6-treated PBMCs attempting to assume that IL-6 mediates stabilization of IL-2 mRNA. However, monitoring of partially spliced IL-2 mRNA by polymerase chain reaction revealed a clear increase in IL-2 heteronuclear RNA. Thus IL-6 increases the rate of IL-2 transcription which was not detectable by conventional in vitro transcription assays. We conclude that anti-CD3 triggers T-cell proliferation through a process that is partially but not entirely dependent upon release of IL-6. IL-6, in turn, supports IL-2 transcription. Insofar as anti-CD3 mimics antigen-triggered activation of the T-cell receptor complex, IL-6 appears to support the early immune response by augmenting antigen-triggered IL-2 gene expression.