Previous experiments from this laboratory have shown that Lewis rats were protected from experimental allergic encephalomyelitis (EAE) induced by the injection of myelin basic protein (MBP) in Freund's complete adjuvant if they were treated with the encephalitogenic peptide of MBP covalently linked to mouse anti-rat immunoglobulin (Ig) D. It was suggested that this protection developed because the antibody-peptide conjugate targeted the peptide to B cells and that this mode of presentation induced a Th2-like T cell response that controlled the concomitant encephalitogenic Th1 reaction to the autoantigen. The current experiments were carried out to test this hypothesis and to examine the alternative explanation for the protective effect of the conjugate pretreatment, namely that it induced a state of nonresponsiveness in the autoantigenspecific T cells. It was shown that EAE induction was suppressed in Lewis rats when the antibody-peptide conjugate was injected intravenously 14 and 7 d before immunization with MBP in adjuvant, but that anti-MBP antibody titers were at least as high in these animals as in controls that were not pretreated with the conjugate before immunization. Lymph node cells from these pretreated animals, while proliferating in vitro to MBP as vigorously as those from controls, produced less interferon gamma and were very inferior in their ability to transfer disease after this in vitro activation. In contrast, these same lymph node cells from protected rats generated markedly increased levels of messenger RNA for interleukin (IL)-4 and IL-13. When these in vitro experiments were repeated using the encephalitogenic peptide rather than MBP as the stimulus, the proliferative response of lymph node cells from pretreated donors was less than that from controls but was still readily detectable in the majority of experiments. Furthermore, the cytokine expression induced by the peptide was similar to that elicited by whole MBP. While these results support the original hypothesis that the anti-IgD-peptide conjugate pretreatment protected rats from EAE by inducing a Th2-type cytokine response, a totally unexpected finding was that this pretreatment greatly reduced the level of leukocyte infiltration into the central nervous system. This result provides a direct explanation for the protective effect of the pretreatment, but it raises questions regarding migratory and homing patterns of leukocytes activated by different immunological stimuli.