Stimulation of pig peripheral blood lymphocytes with concanavalin A (Con A) provoked a rapid increase (two- to threefold) in the rate of ouabain-inhibitable K+ uptake observable within 3-10 min of stimulation with mitogen. At least two phases can be distinguished in the activation of the Na+/K+ pump: the early phase (till 3 h) is characterized by an unaltered number of ouabain binding sites and the later phase (noted at 5 h) by an increased number of such sites. Both K+ efflux and influx increased to the same extent, thereby maintaining [K+]i at the same level as in resting cells (120 mM). Within 3 min of addition of mitogen, the rates of total and amiloride-inhibitable Na+ uptake went up two- and fourfold, respectively, thus resulting in rapid increase in [Na+]i from 20 to about 50 mM. Activation of the Na+/K+ pump was not observed when the cells were stimulated with Con A in low Na+ medium (9 mM), nor did the usual rise in [Na+]i occur. When monensin (30 microM), a Na+/H+ ionophore, was added to resting cells, an increase in both [Na+]i and active K+ uptake occurred in normal medium but not when cells were suspended in low Na+ isotonic buffer. Amiloride (500 microM), on the other hand, prevented both the Con A-induced increase in [Na+]i and the activation of the Na+/K+ pump. Despite complete inhibition of the Na+,K+-ATPase in the presence of ouabain (1 mM), Con A activated the amiloride-inhibitable Na+ uptake in the usual way. In mouse splenocytes stimulated with Con A, there was also a parallel rise in both [Na+]i and active K+ uptake but this took considerably longer to occur than was the case in pig peripheral blood lymphocytes. Increase in both ionic fluxes, the former passive and the latter active, is essential to the entry and maintenance of the cells in proliferative cycle.