The neurohypophyseal hormones arginine vasopressin (AVP) and oxytocin are capable of replacing the interleukin 2 (IL 2) requirement for T cell mitogen induction of gamma-interferon (IFN-gamma) in mouse spleen cell cultures. The structural basis for the helper signal by these hormones resides in the six N-terminal amino acids of AVP based on the relative ability of AVP, oxytocin, vasotocin, and pressinoic acid (AVP six N-terminal amino acid peptide) to help in IFN-gamma induction. AVP and pressinoic acid provide maximal help at 10(-10) M, while oxytocin and vasotocin with isoleucine at position three in place of phenylalanine are 10-fold less effective. An AVP competitive antagonist of vasopressor activity blocks the AVP helper signal for production of IFN-gamma, while having no effect on IL 2 help. This suggests that the AVP helper signal operates via binding to an AVP vasopressor-type receptor on lymphocytes.