Mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) are immunomodulatory and inhibit lymphocyte proliferation. We studied surface expression of lymphocyte activation markers and secreted cytokines, when lymphocytes were activated in the presence of MSC. MSC suppressed the proliferation of phytohaemagglutinin (PHA)-stimulated CD3+, CD4+ and CD8+ lymphocytes. MSC significantly reduced the expression of activation markers CD25, CD38 and CD69 on PHA-stimulated lymphocytes. Mixed lymphocyte culture (MLC) supernatants containing MSC suppressed proliferation of MLC and PHA-stimulated lymphocytes dose-dependently. MSC secrete osteoprotegerin (OPG), but not hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) or transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β). Stromal-cell-derived factor-1 (SDF-1) is not expressed on the cell surface. A recent report suggested that T-cell suppression by MSC is mediated by HGF and TGF-β. MSC suppression was not restored by the addition of neutralizing antibodies against SDF-1, OPG, HGF or TGF-β, alone or in combination. Addition of guanosine to PHA-stimulated lymphocyte cultures containing MSC did not affect lymphocyte proliferation. The immunosuppressive effects of cyclosporine and MSC did not interfere, when present in the cultures of PHA-activated lymphocytes. In summary, human MSC suppress proliferation of both CD4+ and CD8+ lymphocyte and decrease the expression of activation markers.