MHC antigens, normally expressed as integral membrane proteins, are also present in soluble form in the peripheral circulation.[fnc,2 These soluble human leukocyte antigens (sHLA) are found at elevated levels in patients with a variety of infections as well as in organ transplant recipients. In liver transplant recipients, however, most of the circulating sHLA are of donor phenotype, especially during the early posttransplant period. Here we report the purification and characterization of sHLA of both recipient and donor origin from liver transplant recipients. It was observed that sHLA consisted of four major polypeptides having molecular mass of 44, 41, 35-37, and 12 kD complexed with IgM and IgG antibodies. Further analysis revealed that these immunoglobulins contained anti-HLA antibodies. Analysis of the affinity- purified materials by a number of approaches failed to detect any other fragment(s) of HLA class I heavy chain polypeptides smaller than 12 kD. No significant difference was observed in the biochemical nature of the sHLA of donor and recipient origin and they were similar to those found in normal individuals. Affinity-purified HLA-A3 inhibited the cytolytic activity of an HLA-A3-specific CD8+ T cell line, whereas, purified sHLA-A2 failed to inhibit anti-HLA-A3 CTL activity. Further, the proliferation of the T cell line was not inhibited by sHLA-A3. Thus, the inhibitory activity shown by sHLA was antigen-specific and directed against a functional subset of T lymphocytes. These results support the notion that sHLA may play an important regulatory role in the immune response to allograft in humans.