The steroid hormone, 1 alpha,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 (calcitriol), has been shown to inhibit T cell proliferation, primarily through inhibition of interleukin 2 (IL-2) production. In these experiments, we show that calcitriol also markedly inhibited production of the lymphokine, gamma interferon (IFN-gamma), by activated human T lymphocytes. Regulation of both IL-2 and IFN-gamma production as well as transferrin receptor (TfR) expression by calcitriol was apparent at the messenger RNA (mRNA) level as determined by Northern blotting. The decrease in IL-2 and IFN-gamma mRNA that occurred with calcitriol treatment was coordinate and not apparent up to 12 h after phytohemagglutinin stimulation, whereas decreased accumulation of TfR mRNA was not present before 24-36 h. Furthermore, the effects of calcitriol on IL-2, IFN-gamma, and TfR mRNA accumulation were specific; actin mRNA accumulation was comparable between control and treated cells. These data indicate that calcitriol regulated proteins associated with T cell activation at the transcriptional level and that these effects were mediated in a specific, coordinate fashion.