The specificity of T lymphocyte activation is determined by engagement of the T cell receptor (TCR) by peptide/major histocompatibility complexes expressed on the antigen-presenting cell (APC). Lacking costimulation by accessory molecules on the APC, T cell proliferation does not occur and unresponsiveness to subsequent antigenic stimulus is induced. The B7/BB1 receptor on APCs binds CD28 and CTLA-4 on T cells, and provides a costimulus for T cell proliferation. Here, we show that prolonged, specific T cell hyporesponsiveness to antigenic restimulation is achieved by blocking the interaction between CD28 and B7/BB1 in human mixed leukocyte culture (MLC). Secondary T cell proliferative responses to specific alloantigen were inhibited by addition to the primary culture of monovalent Fab fragments of anti-CD28 monoclonal antibody (mAb) 9.3, which block interaction of CD28 with B7/BB1 without activating T cells. Hypo-responsiveness was also induced in MLC by CTLA4Ig, a chimeric immunoglobulin fusion protein incorporating the extracellular domain of CTLA-4 with high binding avidity for B7/BB1. Cells previously primed could also be made hyporesponsive, if exposed to alloantigen in the presence of CTLA4Ig. Maximal hyporesponsiveness was achieved in MLC after 2 d of incubation with CTLA4Ig, and was maintained for at least 27 d after removal of CTLA4Ig. Accumulation of interleukin 2 (IL-2) and interferon gamma but not IL-4 mRNA was blocked by CTLA4Ig in T cells stimulated by alloantigen. Antigen-specific responses could be restored by addition of exogenous IL-2 at the time of the secondary stimulation. Addition to primary cultures of the intact bivalent anti-CD28 mAb 9.3, or B7/BB1+ transfected CHO cells or exogenous IL-2, abrogated induction of hyporesponsiveness by CTLA4Ig. These data indicate that interaction of CD28 with B7/BB1 during TCR engagement with antigen is required to maintain T cell competence and that blocking such interaction can result in a state of T cell hyporesponsiveness.