This study examined the effect of dietary (2.00 ppm for 8 weeks) supplementation with selenium (as sodium selenite) on the ability of lymphocytes from aged (24-month-old), male, C57BL/6JNIA mice to respond to: (i) stimulation with mitogen (phytohemagglutinin) or alloantigen; (ii) develop into cytotoxic effector cells; and (iii) destroy tumor cells. Supplementation with selenium resulted in a significant increase in the ability of spleen lymphocytes from aged animals to undergo blastogenesis, as indicated by significantly higher amounts of nuclear incorporation of 3H-thymidine after stimulation with mitogen. The dietary regimen restored the age-related deficiency of the cells to respond to stimulation by nuclear DNA synthesis and cell proliferation, at least, to the level of cells from unsupplemented young adult animals. Furthermore, populations of in vivo, alloantigen-activated lymphocytes from Se-supplemented aged animals contained significantly higher numbers of cytotoxic lymphocytes than those from Se-normal aged animals, which resulted in an enhanced capacity to destroy tumor cells. The significant increase in the number of cytotoxic effector cells within these activated T-lymphocyte populations was probably the result of an enhanced clonal proliferation of cytotoxic precursors cells, followed by the differentiation of greater numbers of cytotoxic effector cells. This effect occurred in the absence of changes in the ability of the cells to produce IL-2, which confirmed our earlier observation that dietary supplementation with selenium does not affect the production of IL-2. The data suggested that selenium restores the age-related defect in cell proliferation through an increase in the number of high-affinity IL-2 receptors.