Interleukin-3 (IL-3), a multilineage colony stimulating factor, has been shown to augment alloreactive bone marrow-derived suppressor cell activity in vivo and in vitro. The present study examined the effect of IL-3 on autoimmune-mediated diabetes in NOD mice. Administration of IL-3 twice weekly starting at 2-4 weeks of age delayed the onset and reduced the overall incidence of diabetes. Bone marrow cells obtained from IL-3-treated NOD mice protected NOD mice from cyclophosphamide-induced diabetes but failed to prevent adoptively transferred diabetes. In vitro culture of bone marrow cells in medium containing IL-3 produced a Thy-1+CD3epsilonloCD4-CD8-CD25- immature T cell clone which prevented cyclophosphamide-induced diabetes. The cloned cells also effectively delayed the development of diabetes induced by transfer of T cells in adult thymectomized, irradiated, bone marrow-reconstituted NOD mice. These results suggest that IL-3 is capable of regulating extrathymic T cell development from the bone marrow and that these cells mediate strong immunoregulatory function.