Arginine has been shown to enhance wound healing and T-cell-mediated immune function in rodents. In this study the effect of oral arginine supplementation on human collagen synthesis and T-cell function was studied in 36 healthy, nonsmoking human volunteers. While volunteers were under local anesthesia, a 5 cm segment of expanded polytetrafluoroethylene tubing (1 mm outer diameter, 90 mu pore size) was inserted subcutaneously into the right deltoid region. The volunteers were then randomized into three groups that were given the following substances: (1) daily supplements of 30 gm arginine hydrochloride (24.8 gm free arginine); (2) 30 gm arginine aspartate (17 gm free arginine) daily; or (3) placebo. The supplements were given orally for 2 weeks; dietary intake was not controlled. Mitogenic responses of peripheral blood lymphocytes to phytohemagglutinin and concanavalin A were assayed at the start of study and at 1 and 2 weeks after supplementation. At 2 weeks the catheters were removed, and the amount of hydroxyproline was determined as an index of new collagen synthesis and deposition. Arginine supplementation significantly enhanced the amount of collagen deposited into a standardized wound as assessed by the amount of hydroxyproline present (10.1 +/- 2.32 nmol/cm graft in controls vs 17.57 +/- 2.16 nmol/cm in the arginine aspartate group, [p = 0.028] and vs 23.85 +/- 2.16 nmol/cm in the arginine hydrochloride group [p less than 0.001]). In parallel, arginine supplementation at both doses increased lymphocyte mitogenesis in response to phytohemagglutinin and concanavalin A. The data suggest that arginine may be of clinical benefit in improving wound healing and immune responses.