Pteridin neopterin production by monocytes/macrophages has been linked to the biologic activity of immune activation- and/or infection-related cytokines. In patients with thermal injuries who succumb to infections, serum levels of both interleukin-2 (IL-2) and neopterin are significantly increased. However, the relationship between these two markers of immune activation remains unclear. This study examines the role of IL-2 in the biosynthesis of neopterin after major burn. Up to 4 weeks after burn, the levels of plasma neopterin and endotoxin were elevated in all patients studied (N=9, 30% to >90% total body surface area). Intact (unsupplemented) peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) cultures from patients with sepsis secreted high levels of neopterin spontaneously. The spontaneous release of neopterin was significantly decreased (p<0.05) after supplementation with exogenous IL-2. The reverse was observed in peripheral blood mononuclear cell cultures from infection-free or control groups where relatively low neopterin secretion was markedly augmented in the presence of IL-2. The effect of IL-2 in patient cultures was unrelated to the activity of endogenous interferon gamma, because the production of this cytokine was profoundly reduced. However, IL-2-induced alterations in neopterin secretion paralleled those hi the production of tumor necrosis factor alpha. This suggests that after thermal injury, biologic responses of neopterin-secreting peripheral blood mononuclear cells are directly or indirectly regulated by IL-2.