In the present study, we investigated the interleukin-2 (IL-2) production and the proliferative responses by peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMNC) of 23 children suffering from insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM). In addition, the presence of circulating activated T lymphocytes expressing the interleukin-2 receptor (IL-2 R) and HLA-DR antigens was evaluated. The patients were tested at hospital admittance, before starting insulin treatment. Decreased IL-2 production by phytohemagglutinin (PHA)-activated PBMNC of IDDM patients was observed when compared to normal donors. In contrast, the proliferative responses of PBMNC to PHA and Con A were in the normal range. The expression of IL-2 R on patient's lymphocytes was not different from that observed in normal donors, whereas the relative and absolute number of HLA-DR+ T cells was increased. These results confirm the presence in IDDM patients of an imbalanced cellular immune response and demonstrate that the IL-2 deficiency is already present at the diagnosis and is not correlated with insulin administration.