Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from many asymptomatic individuals infected with human immunodeficiency virus-type 1 (HIV) are unresponsive as measured by in vitro T cell proliferation and interleukin-2 (IL-2) production to influenza virus and synthetic peptides of HIV envelope (Env). Strong influenza virus-and Env-stimulated IL-2 responses and T cell proliferation were restored when cultures were stimulated in the presence of IL-12. Interferon-"gamma" production by PBMCs from HIV seropositive (HIV sup "plus") patients was also restored with IL-12. Furthermore, in vitro antigen-specific production of IL-2 and proliferation of PBMCs from HIV sup "minus" donors were suppressed by antibody to IL-12, but were not enhanced by addition of exogenous IL-12. Thus, IL-12 may be limiting in PBMCs from HIV sup "plus" but not HIV sup "minus" individuals. These findings demonstrate that IL-12 can restore HIV-specific cell-mediated immunity in vitro in HIV-infected individuals and suggest a potential use of IL-12 in augmenting the diminished immunologic functions associated with HIV infection.