Concanavalin A (Con A)-activated suppressor cell activity was determined in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients who had been assigned to one of three subgroups, those with active disease, those recovering from a flare-up, and those with stable disease. The level of suppression induced by the Con A-activated suppressor cells on the mitogenic response of autologous peripheral blood lymphocytes was reduced in patients with active disease (3 +/- 8%) compared with stable patients (30 +/- 8%), patients recovering from a flare-up (62 +/- 5%), and controls (40 +/- 5%). As a measure of the actual amounts of suppressor factors released, the effect of supernatants from the Con A-activated cells on the proliferative activity of a dividing cell line (L cells) was determined concurrently. The inhibitory effect of supernatants from activated cells was reduced in active and stable MS patients (7 +/- 3%) compared to controls (21 +/- 4%). Three of 4 with active MS showed mildly elevated immune complex levels as measured by the Raji cell technique; each of these patients had low suppressor activity. Levamisole (1 microgram per milliliter) failed to alter suppressor cell activity in our in vitro system.