We investigated the cycle of immune enhancement and suppression seen in mice infected with Chlamydia trachomatis by using in vivo and in vitro model systems. BALB/c mice injected intravenously with chlamydia reveal a three- to seven-fold increase in numbers of plaque-forming cells producing antibodies against sheep red blood cells (SRBC), when immunized with SRBC 0 to 5 days after chlamydia infection. When mice are injected with SRBC 10 to 15 days after initial chlamydia infection, the specific anti-SRBC plaque-forming cell response is suppressed two- to three-fold. In vitro, low numbers (2 to 5 X 10(6) bacteria/ml) of chlamydia stimulate potent proliferative responses by B lymphocytes while high numbers (25 X 10(6) bacteria/ml) of bacteria generate strong, general T suppressor activity. This model has important implications for regulation of immune responses that arise at different times during chlamydial infections, as well as for the potential effectiveness of chlamydial vaccines.