In vitro experiments using purified rat CD4+ T cells in primary and secondary mixed leukocyte cultures (MLC) have been carried out to explore the mechanism of inhibition of cell-mediated autoimmune disease in the rat by a nondepleting monoclonal antibody (mAb) to CD4. Previous work has shown that W3/25, a mouse anti-rat CD4 mAb of immunoglobulin G1 isotype, completely prevents the development of the paralysis associated with experimental allergic encephalomyelitis (EAE) in Lewis rats, but does so without eliminating the encephalitogenic T cells. The in vitro experiments described in this study have shown that when CD4+ T cells were activated in the presence of the anti-CD4 mAb in a primary MLC, the synthesis of interferon (IFN) gamma, but not interleukin (IL) 2, was completely inhibited. After secondary stimulation, now in the absence of the mAb, the synthesis of IL-4 and IL-13 mRNA was greatly enhanced compared with that observed from CD4+ T cells derived from primary cultures in which the mAb was omitted. As IL-4 and IL-13 are known to antagonize cell-mediated immune reactions, and as EAE is cell- mediated disease, the data suggest that the W3/25 mAb controls EAE by modifying the cytokine repertoire of T cells that respond to the encephalitogen. The capacity for the mAb to suppress IFN-gamma synthesis provides, in part, an explanation for this change in cytokine production. These findings are discussed in terms of what is known of the factors that determine which cytokine genes are expressed on T cell activation. Possible implications for the evolution of T cell responses in human immunodeficiency virus infection are also discussed.