We examined the ability of recombinant IL-2 to reconstitute the autologous mixed lymphocyte reaction (AMLR) defect in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBM) from patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Our results revealed an ability to fully reconstitute RA AMLRs with pharmacologic concentrations (100 units/ml), but not physiologic concentrations (10 units/ml) of IL-2. Full reconstitution of RA AMLRs was achieved whether IL-2 was added as the initiation of culture or at 48 or 72 hours prior to termination of the cultures. Impaired IL-2 production was noted throughout the time course of the RA AMLRs. Neither an inhibitor of IL-1 nor IL-2 was detected in AMLR culture supernatants. Moreover, IL-1 in pharmacologic concentrations up to 50 units/ml failed to reconstitute impaired AMLR reactivity. In 2 patients whose AMLRs failed to reconstitute fully with 100 units/ml IL-2, addition of 10 units/ml IL-1 in combination with IL-2 fully reconstituted the AMLR defect. The results may suggest that defective IL-2 generation alone cannot fully account for impaired AMLR reactivity in RA patients.