Elimination of inflammatory T cells by apoptosis appears to play an important role in the down-regulation of inflammation in the central nervous system. Here we report that apoptosis of T lymphocytes occurs to a similar extent in different models of autoimmune encephalomyelitis. Apoptosis is restricted to cells located in the neuroectodermal parenchyma, thereby leaving T cells present in the brain's connective tissue compartments unharmed. Death of T cells in the parenchyma does not depend on antigen presentation by resident microglial cells or astrocytes. Adoptive transfer experiments with T lymphocytes carrying a specific genetic marker revealed that in the central nervous system these cells are destroyed regardless of their antigen specificity or state of activation. Although many of both antigen-dependent and -independent mechanisms in the induction of T-cell apoptosis may act simultaneously, our results suggest that the nervous system harbors a specific, currently undefined, mechanism that effectively eliminates infiltrating T lymphocytes.