To assess the role of amniotic fluid (AMF) in the maintenance of pregnancy, immunosuppressive effects of AMF were studied in vivo, and the mechanisms of suppressor activity were analyzed immunologically in vitro in the rat. Female Lewis (LEW, RT-1l) rats mated with Brown-Norway (BN, RT-1n) rats for 14 days were sacrificed and cell-free AMF was obtained. AMF was diafiltered with PBS (PH 7.2) and reconstituted to 2 OD units measured at 280 nm. Untreated LEW hosts rejected BN renal grafts at 7.8 +/- 0.2 days (n = 10). Five days of intravenous inoculation of AMF into LEW hosts remarkably enhanced BN graft survivals (MST = 20.3 +/- 4.4 days, n = 12) compared with controls (P less than 0.01), and slightly prolonged third-party DA (RT-1a) graft survivals (MST = 9.4 +/- 0.8 days, n = 7) compared with control LEW hosts engrafted with a DA kidney (MST = 7.6 +/- 0.2 days, n = 6). Five days of intravenous inoculation of pregnant sera into LEW hosts had no effect on BN graft survival. The AMF suppressed the proliferative response of LEW lymphocytes against not only irradiated BN stimulator cells but also irradiated third-party DA stimulators. The AMF also suppressed allokiller T cell generation of normal LEW lymphocytes against BN cells by 70.1% and 51.3%, and against DA cells by 64.9% and 38.9% at concentrations of 25% and 12.5%, respectively (P less than 0.01). To dissect the immunosuppressive activity of AMF, the effect of AMF on cytokine production and interleukin 2 (IL-2) receptor expression of concanavalin A-stimulated lymphocytes were investigated. AMF suppressed interferon and IL-2 production. Interestingly, however, AMF did not suppress interleukin 3 (IL-3) and interleukin 6 (IL-6) production, as well as IL-2 receptor expression. These results demonstrated that rat AMF displayed a strong immunosuppression in vivo as well as in vitro, and that AMF might play an important role in the maintenance of pregnancy.