Interleukin 12 (IL-12) facilitates the generation of a T helper type 1 (Th1) response, with high interferon gamma (IFN-gamma) production, while inhibiting the generation of IL-4-producing Th2 cells in polyclonal cultures of both human and murine T cells and in vivo in the mouse. In this study, we analyzed the effect of IL-12, present during cloning of human T cells, on the cytokine profile of the clones. The culture system used allows growth of clones from virtually every T cell, and thus excludes the possibility that selection of precommitted Th cell precursors plays a role in determining characteristics of the clones. IL-12 present during the cloning procedures endowed both CD4+ and CD8+ clones with the ability to produce IFN-gamma at levels severalfold higher than those observed in clones generated in the absence of IL-12. This priming was stable because the high levels of IFN-gamma production were maintained when the clones were cultured in the absence of IL-12 for 11 d. The CD4+ and some of the CD8+ clones produced variable amounts of IL-4. Unlike IFN-gamma, IL-4 production was not significantly different in clones generated in the presence or absence of IL-12. These data suggest that IL-12 primes the clone progenitors, inducing their differentiation to high IFN-gamma-producing clones. The suppression of IL-4-producing cells observed in polyclonally generated T cells in vivo and in vitro in the presence of IL-12 is not observed in this clonal model, suggesting that the suppression depends more on positive selection of non-IL-4-producing cells than on differentiation of individual clones. However, antigen-specific established Th2 clones that were unable to produce IFN-gamma with any other inducer did produce IFN-gamma at low but significant levels when stimulated with IL-12 in combination with specific antigen or insoluble anti-CD3 antibodies. This induction of IFN-gamma gene expression was transient, because culture of the established clones with IL-12 for up to 1 wk did not convert them into IFN-gamma producers when stimulated in the absence of IL-12. These results suggest that Th clones respond to IL-12 treatment either with a stable priming for IFN-gamma production or with only a transient low level expression of the IFN-gamma gene, depending on their stage of differentiation.