L-ornithine was found to differentially affect the induction of allospecific cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) and suppressor T cells (Ts). At a concentration of 10 mM, ornithine inhibited the development of CTL in a mixed-leukocyte culture (MLC). This same population of cells suppressed the generation of CTL when irradiated and cocultured with fresh syngeneic lymphocytes and alloantigen. Suppression was mediated by Lyt-1-2+ cells and was antigen specific. Suppression was abrogated when IL-2 (10 U/ml) was added to the cocultures, but could not be reversed by increasing the antigen dose. Ornithine was not toxic to CTL precursors but rather arrested their development. Cells from MLC plus ornithine developed CTL activity within 2 days of transfer to secondary cultures in the absence of ornithine. Development of CTL effector cells (CTLe) was augmented by but did not require exogenous IL-2. Generation of CTLe from the MLC plus ornithine population was radiation sensitive and could be inhibited by reexposure to ornithine, even in the presence of IL-2. Thus, Lyt-1-2+ T cells allostimulated in vitro in MLC plus ornithine and lacking CTL activity convey radiation-resistant, antigen-specific suppression.