Inhibition of lectin-induced lymphocyte activation by five reagents capable of combining with or oxidizing free sulfhydryl groups was examined. Each of the reagents tested was capable of inhibiting [methyl-3H]thymidine or [14C]uridine incorporation into trichloroacetic acid-insoluble material. Four of these reagents, iodoacetamide and N-ethylmaleimide (alkylating agents) and 5,5′-dithiobis (2-nitrobenzoic acid) and p-hydroxymercuriphenylsulfonic acid (sulfhydryl binding agents), inhibited activation when added to lymphocyte cultures together with lectin or at any time thereafter through 48 hr. In contrast, the sulfhydryl oxidizing agent diazine dicarboxylic acid bis[N,N-dimethylamide] (diamide) was effective only when added within 30-60 min of lectin or when added after 24 hr. This inhibition of lymphocyte activation was not due to decreased intracellular levels of reduced glutathione or to inhibition of binding of lectin to the lymphocyte. These results suggest that maintenance of free sulfhydryl groups is important during the early induction of lymphocyte activation and suggest that an obligatory step or steps in the activation sequence may involve sulfhydryl interactions.