Biotin deficiency is known to affect immune function in both humans and experimental animals. In this study, we determined the effect of biotin deficiency on 4-wk-old Balb/cAnN mice during 20 wk of experimentation. The growth rate of mice slowed significantly during the first 6 wk of consumption of a diet designed to induce biotin deficiency; thereafter, from weeks 7 to 20 there was progressive weight loss in the mice receiving the biotin-deficient diet. In the livers of biotin-deficient mice, the specific activities of two biotin-dependent enzymes--pyruvate carboxylase and propionyl-CoA carboxylase--decreased by as much as 75% and 80%, respectively, and in spleen lymphocytes the specific activities of these two enzymes decreased by 63% and 75%, respectively. With respect to the effects of biotin deficiency on the immune system, we observed statistically significant changes in both the absolute number of spleen cells and in the proportions of spleen cells carrying different phenotypic markers: after 16 wk the percentage of cells expressing surface immunoglobulin (sIg) decreased from 47% (control and supplemented) to 27% (deficient) and CD3+ cells increased from 42% (control and supplemented) to 54% (deficient). The mitogen-induced proliferation of spleen cells from deficient mice was lower than that of spleen cells from the control mice. These findings suggest that biotin could have an important role in lymphocyte maturation and responsiveness to stimulation, and consequently in the capacity of the immune system to respond to an antigenic challenge.