Trichophyton rubrum causes 90% of chronic dermatophyte infections. Most patients with widespread chronic T. rubrum infection fail to express a delayed hypersensitivity reaction to intradermally injected trichophytin. We propose that cell-mediated immunity to T. rubrum may be suppressed in chronic infections by the mannan cell wall component of the fungus. The proposed suppressive effect of T. rubrum mannan on cell-mediated immunity was tested by measuring the ability of extracted mannan to inhibit lymphoproliferative responses of human mononuclear leukocytes to antigens, mitogens, and an anti -T-cell receptor antibody (anti-CD3) in vitro. Mannan was found to be highly antigenic in two of five donors and weakly antigenic in the other three. Despite its antigenic property, mannan exhibited a dose-related ability to inhibit lymphoproliferation stimulated by other agents including 1) antigens from Candida albicans, T. rubrum, and tetanus toxoid (ID50 = 250 μg/ml); 2) anti-CD3 antibody (ID50 = 250 μg/ml); and 3) Phaseolus limensis mitogenic lectin (ID50 = 64 μg/ml). Mannan added to cultures later than 24 h after initiation had no inhibitory influence, but culture of cells with mannan for a period of 24 h prior to the addition of stimulus enhanced the inhibitory effect of the glycoprotein. Lymphoproliferation in response to recombinant interleukin-2 (IL-2) was not inhibited. The influence of time of addition of mannan and the failure of mannan to inhibit IL-2-stimulated lymphoproliferation demonstrate that the suppressive effect of mannan must be pharmacologic rather than cytotoxic. The observed ability of T. rubrum cell wall mannan to suppress cell-mediated immune function in vitro may provide an important clue to a mechanism enabling the fungus to avoid elimination in chronically infected patients.