We investigated the relationship between the increased cell diameter of Lyt-2+ T cells and the development of autoimmune disease in aging NZB and NZB X NZW F1 hybrid (BW) mice. Individual animals were analyzed for Lyt-2+ T cell size (by narrow-angle forward light scatter), anti-erythrocyte autoantibodies, anemia, proteinuria, and splenomegaly. The peak light scatter of the Lyt-2+ T cells correlated with the level of anti-erythrocyte autoantibodies and severity of hemolytic anemia, but not with proteinuria or splenomegaly. The cell size of this T cell subset did not increase in old BW or in NZB mice homozygous for the xid gene (NZB.xid). The in vivo administration of bacterial lipopolysaccharide to young NZB mice did not stimulate the enlargement of Lyt-2+ T cells. Ly-2+ T cells from old NZB mice could be stimulated by concanavalin A (Con A) to express interleukin 2 (IL 2) receptors and to synthesize DNA in vitro. However, in vivo administration of Con A to old NZB mice did not induce the expression of IL 2 receptors on Lyt-2+ T cells. Further, in vivo T suppressor function was impaired in old NZB mice with enlarged Lyt-2+ T cells. Thus, the enlargement of Lyt-2+ T cells in old NZB mice appears related to impaired T cell function in vivo and is associated with the development of anti-erythrocyte autoantibodies and autoimmune hemolytic anemia.