The P gene of measles virus (MV) encodes the phosphoprotein, a component of the virus ribonucleoprotein complex, and two nonstructural proteins, C and V, with unknown functions. Growth of recombinant MV, defective in C or V expression, was explored in human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC). The production of infectious recombinant MV V- was comparable to that of parental MV tag in simian Vero fibroblasts and in PBMC. In contrast, MV C- progeny was strongly reduced in PBMC but not in Vero cells. Consistently, the expression of both hemagglutinin and fusion proteins, as well as that of nucleoprotein mRNA, was lower in MV C--infected PBMC. Thus, efficient replication of MV in natural host cells requires the expression of the nonstructural C protein. The immunosuppression that accompanies MV infection is associated with a decrease in the in vitro lymphoproliferative response to mitogens. MV C- was as potent as MV tag or MV V- in inhibiting the phytohemagglutinin-induced proliferation of PBMC, indicating that neither the C protein nor the V protein is directly involved in this effect.