By induction of a graft-vs.-host reaction (GVHR) in nonirradiated H-2-different F1 mice, one can induce stimulatory pathological symptoms, such as lymphadenopathy and hypergammaglobulinemia, combined with the production of autoantibodies characteristic of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Alternatively, the GVHR can lead to the suppressive pathological symptoms, such as pancytopenia and hypogammaglobulinemia, characteristic of acute GVH disease (GVHD). Whether stimulatory or suppressive symptoms are induced by a GVHR depends, in our view (2-4), on the functional subset of donor T cells activated in the F1 host. The purpose of the present study was to investigate whether class I and/or class II H-2 alloantigens can selectively trigger, out of a pool of unselected donor T cells, those subpopulations of T cells responsible for the stimulatory and suppressive GVH symptoms, respectively. For the induction of the GVHR, 10(8) lymphoid cells from C57BL/6 (B6) donors were injected into three kinds of F1 hybrid mice, which had been bred from H-2 mutant strains on a B6 background. Whereas the I-A-disparate (B6 X bm12)F1 recipients exclusively developed stimulatory GVH symptoms, including SLE-like autoantibodies and immune complex glomerulonephritis, the K locus-disparate (B6 X bm1)F1 recipients showed neither clearly stimulatory nor clearly suppressive GVH symptoms. In marked contrast, the (bm1 X bm12)F1 recipients, which differ from the B6 donor strain by mutations at both K and I-A locus, initially developed stimulatory GVH symptoms, but rapidly thereafter showed the suppressive pathological symptoms of acute GVHD and died. Moreover, spleen cells obtained from (B6 X bm12)F1 mice injected with B6 donor cells helped the primary anti-sheep erythrocyte (SRBC) response of normal (B6 X bm12)F1 spleen cells in vitro, whereas spleen cells (bm1 X bm12)F1 mice injected with B6 donor cells strongly suppressed the primary anti-SRBC response of normal (bm1 X bm12)F1 spleen cells. Spleen cells from the K locus-disparate (B6 X bm1)F1 recipients also suppressed the primary anti-SRBC of normal (B6 X bm1)F1 spleen cells; this suppression, however, was weak when compared with the suppression induced by spleen cells from GVH (bm1 X bm12)F1 mice. Taken together, these findings indicate that a small class II (I-A) antigenic difference suffices to trigger the alloreactive donor T helper cells causing SLE-like GVHD. In contrast, both class I (H-2K) and class II (I-A) differences are required to trigger the subsets of donor T cells responsible for acute GVHD. It appears that alloreactive donor T helper cells induce the alloreactive T suppressor cells, which then act as the suppressor effector cells causing the pancytopenia of acute GVHD. These findings may help to understand the variability of GVH-like diseases caused by a given etiologic agent, their cellular pathogenesis, and association with certain HLA loci.