The secretion of IL-2 is a critical and early landmark in the activation program of CD4+ T cells in vitro, but the lack of sensitive assays has limited its application for studying T cell activation in vivo. Using a mouse cytokine capture assay we were able to detect the rapid secretion of IL-2 after an in vivo stimulus by 1-2 h in naive T cells and as early as 30 min in memory T cells. Maximal secretion was achieved within 1-2 h for memory cells or 6-8 h for naive T cells. Surprisingly IL-2 production terminated quickly in vivo and secretion was undetectable by 20-24 h in either cell type. We further demonstrated that this short duration of secretion can be influenced by cellular competition between Ag-specific CD4+ T cells. The consequences of competition were mimicked by reducing the strength of the antigenic stimulus. These data argue that early competition between T cells influences both the eventual frequency of IL-2 producers in the population and also the duration of their secretion, potentially by altering the strength or duration of the stimulus available to each T cell.