Patients with B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) acquire an immunodeficiency with many characteristics similar to those of persons with inherited defects in the gene encoding the CD40-ligand (CD154). We found that the blood and splenic CD4+ T cells of patients with CLL failed to express surface CD154 after CD3 ligation. However, using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA)-based quantitative competitive polymerase chain reaction (PCR), we noted that CD3 ligation could induce such T cells to express CD154 messenger RNA at levels similar to that of CD3-activated T cells from normal donors. Moreover, addition of increasing numbers of CLL B cells to activated normal donor T cells rapidly resulted in progressively greater down-modulation of CD154. Such down-modulation of CD154 could be blocked by addition of CD40 monoclonal antibody to cultures in vitro. We propose that leukemia cell-mediated down-modulation of CD154 on activated T cells accounts for some of the acquired immune defects of patients with CLL.