The occurrence of brain tumors is associated with broad suppression of the immune system function; however, the mechanisms involved in this impairment are not fully characterized. In this study, we have examined mechanisms involved in diminished T lymphocyte reactivity in patients with glioblastomas as compared to patients with other types of brain tumors. We found that the proliferative response of T lymphocytes stimulated with phytohemagglutinin or anti-CD3 was significantly reduced in these patients as compared to patients with meningiomas, oligodendrogliomas and healthy individuals. Stimulated T cells appear to express lower levels of the alpha-subunit (p55) of the IL-2 receptor (IL-2R), and increased levels of soluble IL-2R in cell supernatants, whereas no significant differences were observed in the level of the beta (p75)- or gamma-subunits. In addition, we found that competent T cells of glioblastoma patients exhibit lower levels of tyrosine phosphorylation in response to IL-2 as compared with cells of healthy donors. The decrease in the levels of IL-2 and its receptor was selective since no significant changes were observed in the secretion of other Th1- and Th2-derived cytokines (IFN-gamma and IL-4) and the expression of their respective receptors. These results indicate that the diminished response of T cells obtained from patients with glioblastomas may be due to a selective defect in the production of IL-2 and in the expression of functional IL-2R due to a decreased expression of the membranal IL-2R alpha and to lower levels of tyrosine phosphorylation in response to IL-2.