The plant sterols campesterol, beta-sitosterol and beta-sitostanol were investigated for potential immunomodulatory effects in Jurkat T cells. Treatments involved supplementing cells with or without concanavalin A (ConA) or phorbol-12-myristate-13-acetate plus ionomycin (PMA+IoM) in the presence or absence of increasing concentrations (10-100 mu M) of each plant sterol for 24 It. None of the plant sterols significantly affected mitogen-stimulated IL-4, IL-10 or IFN-gamma production. However, campesterol, beta-sitosterol and beta-sitostanol significantly suppressed mitogen-induced IL-2 production in a dose-dependent mariner. Both bisindolylmaleimide-I (BIM-I), a specific protein kinase C (PKC) inhibitor, and the immunosuppressant drug known as Tacrolimus (FK506), an IL-2 inhibitor, prevented mitogen-stimulated IL-2 production in Jurkat cells. Treatment with PMA+IoM alone significantly increased PKC activity and the presence of BIM-I prevented PKC activation by PMA+IoM. Following 24 It treatments, the plant sterols did not affect PMA+IoM-enhanced PKC activity, cellular calcium content or calcineurin activity. Intracellular cyclic 3',5'-adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) levels were significantly reduced by PMA+IoM. The presence of FK506 prevented a PMA+IoM-induced reduction of intracellular cAMP. Likewise the plant sterols behaved in a similar manner as FK506. Our findings suggest that the suppression of IL-2 by the plant sterols was not mediated via PKC inhibition and that their effects occurred possibly via cAMP modulation and/or a calcium/calcineurin-independent pathway.