Regulation of T-cell traffic and function in the adult rat testis was assessed following treatment with the specific Leydig cell cytoxin, ethane dimethane sulfonate (EDS), and s.c. testosterone implants to prevent Leydig cell recovery. The distribution of T-cell subsets in the testis was determined immunohistochemically using stereological techniques. Testicular T cell-inhibiting activity in the interstitial fluid was measured using a phytohemagglutinin-activated rat thymocyte proliferation bioassay. The mostly cytotoxic CD8+ T-cell subset predominated over the CD4+ (regulatory) T-cell subset in the normal rat testis. Destruction of the Leydig cells caused a rapid preferential increase in testicular CD4+ T cells, which was followed by an increase in both the CD8+ subset and T cell-inhibiting activity in the Leydig cell-deficient testis. After Leydig cell recovery, there was a significant shift toward the CD8+ T-cell subset in the EDS-treated testis but not in the EDS-treated/testosterone-implanted testis. Total T-cell numbers and inhibitory activity in the testis returned to control levels regardless of whether the Leydig cells were allowed to recover. The level of inhibitory activity was closely related to the number of CD8+ T cells in the testis across all experimental groups, but it showed no relationship with pituitary hormones, macrophage numbers, or intratesticular testosterone levels. The data suggest that 1) cytotoxic lymphocytes have a potentially significant role in testicular function and 2) T cell-inhibiting activity in the testis interstitium is not substantially affected by changes in pituitary hormones or Leydig cell function, but appears to be related to local changes in immune activity.