Leflunomide and its active metabolite, A771726, are structurally unrelated to immunosuppressive agents currently under investigation. Previous in vitro studies have revealed that leflunomide primarily inhibits interleukin-2-stimulated T cell proliferation. In the current study, we have extended our previous work and demonstrate that leflunomide prevents T cell progression induced by phytohemagglutinin into the S phase of the cell cycle. To discriminate further the action on T cells of leflunomide from other immunosuppressive agents, we performed kinetic studies where leflunomide was added either after the initiation of mixed lymphocyte cultures (MLC) or after interleukin-2 stimulation of CTLL-4 cell proliferation. These studies revealed that leflunomide acted comparably to rapamycin, but was distinct from brequinar sodium in the MLC, and from cyclosporine and mycophenolic acid in both MLC and CTLL-4. Although previous biochemical studies indicated that leflunomide can inhibit src-family tyrosine kinase activity, more recent studies have suggested that leflunomide can also inhibit pyrimidine synthesis. Our data demonstrate that the ability of leflunomide (25-100 microM) to inhibit MLC and CTLL-4 cell proliferation is partially antagonized by uridine (25-100 microM), and support the hypothesis that leflunomide inhibits pyrimidine synthesis in T cells. Unique molecular mechanisms of immunosuppression suggest that drug combinations may result in synergistic immunosuppression. Our in vitro studies revealed synergistic inhibition of T cell proliferation with the combinations of leflunomide with cyclosporine or with rapamycin. We have extended those studies to quantitate inhibition of MLC by the combinations of leflunomide and brequinar sodium or mycophenolic acid.