FK-506 blocks T cell activation by preventing lymphokine gene transcription through formation of a complex with FKBP12 that inhibits calcineurin phosphatase activity. Immunosuppressive FK-506 analogs (agonists) have been generated whose potency correlates with calcineurin inhibition. Nonimmunosuppressive antagonist analogs have also been identified, including L-685,818, which binds to FKBP12 but does not inhibit calcineurin. We describe a novel property of FK-506 analog, characterized as a mixed agonist/antagonist immunosuppressive activity. It is displayed by L-688,617, the 32 O-methoxyethoxymethyl derivative of the agonist L-683,590 (C21-ethyl). Although it binds to FKBP12 similarly to L-683,590, L-688,617 incompletely suppressed T cell proliferation induced by optimal activation and enhanced that induced by supraoptimal activation. In the latter situation, L-688,617 suppressed IL-2 production only partially but blocked activation-driven cell death. Moreover, a 1000-fold molar excess of L-688,617 antagonized the immunosuppressive activity of L-683,590. L-688,617 inhibited calcineurin phosphatase activity in cells only partially. The unique agonist/antagonist activity of L-688,617 may therefore reflect its high affinity for FKBP12, combined with a reduced ability of the drug-FKBP12 complex to inhibit calcineurin function. However, in a cell-free system, L-688,617 completely blocked this function when a large excess of FKBP12 over calcineurin was present, suggesting that the intracellular concentration of FKBP12 may be a limiting factor that prevents full agonist activity of L-688,617 in cells.