Activated B and T lymphocytes from normal human subjects are known to have the specific high-affinity receptor for 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 (1,25-(OH)2-D3). In an attempt to determine a functional role for the sterol in such cells, we studied the effect of 1,25-(OH)2-D3 on DNA synthesis and Ig production by normal human peripheral blood mononuclear (PBM) cells activated in vitro by the polyclonal lymphocyte activators pokeweed mitogen and phytohemagglutinin, and the specific antigen dermatophyton O. A dose-dependent inhibition of [3H]thymidine incorporation was observed in cells incubated with 1,25-(OH)2-D3 in concentrations ranging from 10(-10) to 10(-7) M. Production of IgG and IgM, determined by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, was similarly inhibited by increasing concentrations of 1,25-(OH)2-D3. Half-maximal inhibition of DNA and Ig synthesis was found at 10(-10) to 10(-9) M 1,25-(OH)2-D3. This suppressive effect was specific for 1,25-(OH)2-D3; of the other vitamin D metabolites examined, only 10(-7) M 24R,25 dihydroxyvitamin D3 (24,25-(OH)2-D3) had a similar inhibitory effect. 1,25-(OH)2-D3 was not cytotoxic and did not affect unactivated PBMs. These data demonstrate that 1,25-(OH)2-D3 is a potent inhibitor of human PBM Ig production in vitro and suggest that this action is mediated through the hormone's antiproliferative effect on Ig-producing B cells and/or helper T cells.