The cellular origin and the control of neopterin release associated with immune stimulation was studied in cell cultures. Using purified human mononuclear cells, the intracellular change in concentrations of GTP and pterins was measured under various kinds of stimulation. Three enzymes involved in tetrahydrobiopterin biosynthesis, i.e. GTP cyclohydrolase I, 6-pyruvoyl tetrahydropterin synthase and sepiapterin reductase, were also determined. Human macrophages stimulated with culture supernatant from activated T-lymphocytes were the main producers of neopterin. In these cells, GTP cyclohydrolase I activity was elevated due to high GTP levels and therefore neopterin accumulated. Human macrophages lack 6-pyruvoyl tetrahydropterin synthase activity. Exogenous tetrahydrobiopterin added to the culture medium of stimulated T cells and macrophages suppressed the elevation of GTP cyclohydrolase I activity and neopterin concentration, but not the elevation of intracellular GTP. Stimulation of macrophages with recombinant human interferon-gamma and neutralization of the effect of T cell supernatants by addition of a monoclonal antibody specific for human interferon-gamma showed that immune interferon induced the alterations in GTP cyclohydrolase I activity and neopterin concentration. In the human macrophage line U-937 and in the leukemia line HL-60, no GTP cyclohydrolase I activity or intracellular pterins were detected, but high levels of GTP. In mouse mononuclear cells, no neopterin was detected, but biopterin and pterin. After stimulation, biopterin was elevated in the same way as neopterin in human mononuclear cells. This is explained by the different regulation of the rate-limiting steps of tetrahydrobiopterin biosynthesis in man and in mouse. These results suggest that neopterin is an unspecific marker for the activation of the cellular immune system.