Five children with primary deficiencies of T cell function were studied to assess the effects of highly purified exogenous Interleukin 2 (IL 2) on their in vitro T cell responses. The lymphocytes from one child with Nezelof's T cell deficiency demonstrated absence of endogenous IL 2 production and improved proliferative responses to mitogen or alloantigen in the presence of exogenous IL 2. Moreover, during in vitro mixed lymphocyte culture in the presence of exogenous IL 2, his lymphocytes were able to develop into cytotoxic effector cells. A second child with Nezelof's syndrome demonstrated a different type of defect. The lymphocytes from this child had less impairment of endogenous IL 2 production. Although IL 2 increased the proliferation of his cells in response to PHA, similar augmentation was not seen after stimulation with OKT3 or alloantigen. In cell-mediated cytotoxicity assays, after mixed lymphocyte culture, natural killer-like activity was strongly boosted in the cultures that contained IL 2, but T cell-mediated cytotoxicity was not. The lymphocytes from three patients with severe combined immunodeficiency did not show improved proliferative responses in the presence of IL 2. Thus, only one of the five patients demonstrated the combination of defective endogenous IL 2 production, but preservation of the ability to respond appropriately to exogenous IL 2. This child may therefore have suffered from a T cell defect pathophysiologically similar to that seen in nude or aged mice.