Diabetes susceptibility in non-obese diabetic (NOD) mice may entail faulty activation of immunoregulatory cells resulting from cytokine deficiencies. Depletion of T cells prevents disease onset in these mice. Since we had previously shown that IL-2 treatment in vivo restored the ability of NOD/Lt mice to produce self-restricted suppressor T cells (Ts) in a syngeneic mixed lymphocyte reaction (SMLR), we investigated the possibility that diabetes could be circumvented by treatment with immunostimulatory agents that increase cytokine production. By 20 weeks of age, 75% of vehicle-treated NOD/Lt female controls had become glycosuric, while glycosuria developed in only 17% of NOD/Lt females injected with human recombinant interleukin-2 (rIL-2, 250 U twice weekly) beginning at 6 weeks of age. Treatment of mice with Poly [I:C] alone [50 micrograms twice weekly, an inducer of Interferon (IFN) alpha/beta] or in conjunction with rIL-2 was even more effective, completely preventing glycosuria for 20 weeks. However, therapeutic effects required continuous administration of the immunostimulants since pancreatic insulin content declined and severity of insulitis increased following cessation of treatment. IL-2 treatment increased transcription of interleukin-1 (IL-1) mRNA in peritoneal macrophages and increased lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-stimulated IL-1 secretion in comparison to controls. In the presence of stimulators from IL-2-treated mice, T lymphocytes isolated from both controls and IL-2-treated NOD/Lt mice proliferated in a SMLR and acquired Ts function. Peritoneal macrophages from Poly [I:C]-treated mice exhibited increased IFN alpha gene transcription and LPS-stimulated IL-1 secretion. T cells isolated from Poly [I:C]-treated mice were capable of suppressing NOD-Lt T cell responses to alloantigens in a mixed lymphocyte culture without prior activation in a SMLR. Thus, Poly [I:C] treatment may recruit a different population of regulatory cells than those elicited by treatment with IL-2. However, the mechanisms by which autoreactive T-cell clones may be regulated by these two treatments in NOD/Lt mice may be synergistic. These results indicate that in addition to T-cell depletion protocols, diabetes in NOD mice can be prevented by treatment with immunostimulatory agents.