A synthetic peptide containing env amino acid (aa) sequence 581 to 597 of the transmembrane protein gp41 of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) was tested for its effect on protein kinase C (PKC) and cytoplasmic free Ca2+ [( Ca2+]i) influx-dependent immune functions. We have previously shown that this peptide inhibits PKC-mediated phosphorylation and T-cell receptor-mediated [Ca2+]i influx as well as lymphoproliferation. In this study we demonstrate that the HIV-1 gp41 peptide aa581-597 inhibits lymphoproliferation stimulated via the distinct T-cell-activation molecules CD3, CD2, and CD28, as well as direct stimulation mediated by phorbol ester combined with ionomycin. Further, aa581-597 inhibits both PKC-dependent interleukin 2 (IL 2) production and the [Ca2+]i influx-dependent but PKC-independent induction of IL 2 receptor expression. The HIV-1 gp41 peptide also induces dramatic morphologic changes in lymphocytes, characterized by cytoplasmic ballooning and the acquisition of adherence to plastic, and these changes are dependent on both the length and the temperature of exposure. The results of this study suggest that the HIV-1 gp41 sequence aa581-597 acts at multiple sites to inhibit both PKC activity and [Ca2+]i influx, resulting in the abrogation of several distinct immune functions that are critical for an intact immune response and are defective in HIV-1-infected individuals.