Interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) and tumor necrosis factor (TNF) are lymphokines with a potent hematopoietic progenitor cell suppressive capacity. In untreated and immunosuppressed patients with severe aplastic anemia (SAA) and in control individuals we measured (a) serum levels of IFN-gamma and TNF and its production by peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMNC); (b) serum levels of neopterin, a product that reflects endogenous IFN production; (c) resting and activated lymphocyte subpopulations; and (d) serum levels of soluble interleukin- 2 receptor (IL-2R). Serum levels of IFN and TNF did not differ significantly in untreated and treated SAA patients and control individuals. Spontaneous and phytohemagglutinin-induced production of IFN and TNF by PBMNC, however, were highly increased in both untreated and treated SAA patients. Increased and decreased neopterin serum levels in untreated and treated SAA patients, respectively, suggest modulation of endogenous lymphokine release subsequent to immunosuppression. HLA-DR+ antigen was mainly expressed by CD8 T cells. Circulating numbers of activated (CD4 and CD8) T cells and serum levels of IL-2R were not increased in both untreated and treated SAA patients. The proportion of HLA-DR+ T cells in the PBMNC of untreated SAA patients correlated with the extent of lectin-induced IFN production. Although we were unable to confirm previous reports in SAA on (a) detectable IFN in blood and bone marrow serum, (b) improvement of stem cell growth upon neutralization of endogenous IFN, (c) absolutely increased numbers of circulating activated T cells, and (d) normalization of these abnormalities subsequent to successful immunosuppression, our data clearly support previous reports on abnormal lymphokine production in severe aplastic anemia. Our failure to relate this phenomenon to the severity of disease states, however, further raises doubts on the pathogenetic significance of lymphokine overproduction in SAA.