In the present study peripheral blood mononuclear cells (MNC) obtained from normal uninfected lambs were used to study the possible effects of bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV) on lymphocyte responses to the mitogens, phytohaemagglutinin (PHA), concanavalin A (Con A) and pokeweed mitogen (PWM) in vitro. Live BRSV had a depressive effect on the proliferative responses of normal MNC to PHA, Con A and PWM. Inactivated BRSV and a commercial preparation of prostaglandin E-2 were also found to depress the proliferative responses of normal ovine MNC to PHA but recombinant tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) had no such effect. Serum samples obtained from BRSV-infected lambs contained substances inhibitory to PHA-driven lymphocyte blastogenesis. Memory blastogenic responses to border disease virus (BDV) of lymphocytes obtained from lambs previously primed with BDV were significantly reduced when lymphocytes were exposed to infectious BRSV. (C) 1998 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.