The Golli-MBP transcription unit contains three Golli-specific exons as well as the seven exons of the classical myelin basic protein (MBP) gene and encodes alternatively spliced proteins that share amino acid sequence with MBP. Unlike MBP, which is a late Ag expressed only in the nervous system, Golli exon-containing gene products are expressed both pre- and postnatally at many sites, including lymphoid tissue, as well as in the central nervous system. To investigate whether Golli-MBP peptides unique to Golli would result in neurological disease, we immunized rats and observed a novel neurological disease characterized by mild paralysis and the presence of groups of lymphocytes in the subarachnoid space but not in the parenchyma of the brain. Disease was induced by Th1-type T cells that displayed an unusual activation phenotype. Primary stimulation in vitro induced T cell proliferation with increased surface CD45RC that did not become down-regulated as it did in other Ag-stimulated cultures. Secondary stimulation of this CD45RChigh population with Ag, however, did not induce proliferation or IL-2 production, although an IFN-gamma-producing population resulted. Proliferation could be induced by secondary stimulation with IL-2 or PMA-ionomycin, suggesting an anergic T cell population. Cells could adoptively transfer disease after secondary stimulation with IL-2, but not with Ag alone. These responses are suggestive of a chronically stimulated, anergic population that can be transiently activated to cause disease, fall back into an anergic state, and reactivated to cause disease again. Such a scenario may be important in chronic human disease.