The proliferative response of murine spleen and thymus cells to antigen but not to lectin was inhibited by the active metabolite of vitamin D3, 1,25-(OH)2D3. To directly examine the effect of 1,25-(OH)2D3 on T cell activation in the absence of other complicating interactions, we utilized a panel of cloned Ia-restricted T cell hybridomas that secrete IL 2 on activation by cloned Ia-bearing stimulator cells (TA3) or when stimulated by mitogen. Physiologic concentrations of 1,25-(OH)2D3 (0.01 to 0.1 nm) inhibited the antigen-induced secretion of IL 2 by several of these T cell hybridomas. This inhibition was dependent on the concentration of the free hormone and could be overcome by increasing the number of Ia-bearing stimulator cells used. Pretreatment of the T hybridoma but not the TA3 stimulator cell with 1,25-(OH)2D3 resulted in inhibition of activation. These results are consistent with the finding that specific 1,25-(OH)2D3 receptors are present on the T cell hybridomas but are lacking in TA3 cells. 1,25-(OH)2D3 failed, however, to inhibit the activation of the T cell hybridomas by lectin or by an anti-Thy-1 antibody. These findings suggest that 1,25-(OH)2D3 may be interfering with early events of antigen-induced T cell activation, perhaps by hindering T cell recognition of the relevant antigen on stimulator cell surfaces. This system should prove useful in studying the molecular mechanisms by which 1,25-(OH)2D3 acts to inhibit T cell activation and subsequent IL 2 production.