As an approach to dissect complex mechanisms that lead to graft-vs-host (GvH)-associated immune disorders, we have compared the splenic cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) response and thymic hormonal function in nonirradiated F1 hybrid mice injected with parental spleen cells. Thymic secretory function was studied by the determination of serum thymulin levels, and the number of thymic epithelial cells containing thymulin as assessed by indirect immunofluorescence with the use of an anti-thymulin monoclonal antibody. In addition, the epithelial cell network was analyzed with an anti-keratin serum, and the general histology pattern was studied by conventional histologic methods. An initial analysis was performed on day 15, which was characterized by CTL suppression mediated by parental suppressor T cells. No thymic abnormalities were detected at this time. By day 45 after GvH induction, active CTL suppression had decreased, and GvH was associated with a progressive decline in thymic hormonal function. Finally, by day 60 and thereafter, F1 GvH mice recovered normal in vitro CTL responsiveness, which contrasted with profound alterations of the epithelial cell network and severely reduced serum thymulin levels. This hormonal dysfunction was shown to be directly associated with a reduction in the number of thymulin-containing cells. Moreover, no anti-thymulin auto-antibodies could be detected. The results are discussed with respect to the role of thymic hormonal dysfunction in the modulation of F1 CTL responses observed during the course of a GvH reaction, and the additional analogy of this GvH model with human immunodeficiency.