Suppression of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) in Lewis rats by the oral administration of myelin basic protein (MBP) is mediated by CD8+ T cells that can be isolated from the spleens of MBP-fed animals. These cells adoptively transfer protection to naive animals subsequently immunized with MBP and complete Freund's adjuvant (CFA) and suppress in vitro MBP proliferative responses. Using a transwell system in which the modulator spleen cells from MBP-fed animals are separated by a semipermeable membrane from responder cells, MBP, or OVA-specific T cell lines, we have found that cell contact is not required for in vitro suppression to occur. In vitro suppression is dependent, however, upon antigen-specific triggering of modulator T cells. Once antigen-specific triggering occurs, suppression across the transwell is mediated by an antigen-nonspecific soluble factor that equally suppresses an MBP line or an ovalbumin (OVA) line. This phenomenon of antigen-driven bystander suppression was also demonstrated in vivo. Specifically, Lewis rats fed OVA which were then immunized with MBP/CFA plus OVA given separately subcutaneously were protected from EAE. Animals fed OVA and then immunized with MBP/CFA without OVA given subcutaneously were not protected. The protective effect of feeding OVA could be adoptively transferred by CD8+ T cells from OVA-fed animals into MBP/CFA plus OVA-injected animals. Feeding bovine serum albumin (BSA) or keyhole limpet hemocyanin did not suppress EAE in animals immunized with MBP/CFA plus OVA. EAE was suppressed, however, if BSA was fed and animals then immunized with MBP/CFA plus BSA given subcutaneously. Antigen-driven bystander suppression appears to be an important mechanism by which antigen-driven peripheral tolerance after oral administration of antigen is mediated, and presumably occurs in the microenvironment accounting for the antigen specificity of suppression generated by oral tolerization to antigens.