The effect of caloric restriction (from weaning to old age) on CD3-stimulated CD4+ and CD8+ lymphocyte proliferation and calcium mobilization was examined. Young ad libitum (ad lib) fed, old ad lib fed, old calorically restricted, and old calorically restricted mice which were fed ad lib during the last 6 weeks of their life (restricted/refed) were compared in both BDF1 [(C57BL/6 x DBA/2)F1] and C57BL/6 mice. Proliferation of CD4+ cells was lower in old ad lib animals than in young animals; this difference was not seen in CD8+ cells. Those CD4+ cells which did proliferate in old ad lib animals underwent similar cell cycle progression as young cells. In calorically restricted and calorically restricted/refed animals, CD4+ cell proliferation was similar to the young animals, and CD8+ cells showed a higher proliferative capacity than cells from either young or old ad lib mice. Differences in proliferative capacity were not correlated with alterations in transmembrane signaling efficiency as peak [Ca2+]i was reduced in both T-cell subsets in all groups of old mice relative to young mice. Additionally, reduced [Ca2+]i was observed in the CD8+ subset for which there was no deficit in proliferation, and the enhanced proliferation seen in old restricted and old restricted/refed mice did not manifest as increased [Ca2+]i mobilization. The percentage of CD4+ cells from both mouse strains was reduced in all groups of old mice compared with young mice, while the percentage of CD8+ cells was generally similar in young and all groups of old mice. Our studies would suggest that lifelong caloric restriction of mice prevents the age-associated decrease in T-cell proliferative capacity but that the enhanced proliferation of these cells is not due to increased efficiency of transmembrane signaling.