The principal cause of IL-2 deficiency, a common feature of both murine lupus and human SLE, remains obscure. Recent studies of our own as well as others have shown that dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), an intermediate compound in testosterone synthesis, significantly up-regulates IL-2 production of T cells, and that administration of exogenous DHEA or IL-2 via a vaccinia construct to murine lupus dramatically reverses their clinical autoimmune diseases. Thus, we have examined serum levels of DHEA in patients with SLE to test whether abnormal DHEA activity is associated with IL-2 deficiency of the patients. We found that nearly all of the patients examined have very low levels of serum DHEA. The decreased DHEA levels were not simply a reflection of a long term corticosteroid treatment which may cause adrenal atrophy, since serum samples drawn at the onset of disease, which are devoid of corticosteroid treatment, also contained low levels of DHEA. In addition, exogenous DHEA restored impaired IL-2 production of T cells from patients with SLE in vitro. These results indicate that defects of IL-2 synthesis of patients with SLE are at least in part due to the low DHEA activity in the serum.