The recent finding that CD40L on activated T cells induces interleukin (IL) 12 secretion in human peripheral blood monocytes in vitro suggests that the CD40L-CD40 interaction may be of importance in the priming of T helper (Th) 1-type T cells. We therefore investigated the in vivo relevance of this interaction in an experimental model for a Th1-mediated disease, the hapten reagent (2,4,6-trinitrobenzene sulfonic acid [TNBS])-induced colitis. The administration of anti-gp39 (CD40L) antibodies during the induction phase of the Th1 response prevented interferon gamma production by lamina propria CD4+ T cells and also clinical and histological evidence of disease. In contrast, the secretion of IL-4, a Th2-type cytokine, was increased after anti-gp39 treatment. In further studies we showed that the prevention of disease activity was caused by an inhibition of IL-12 secretion, as demonstrated by immunohistochemistry. In addition, the injection of recombinant IL-12 p70 heterodimer into TNBS + anti-gp39-treated mice reversed the effect of anti-gp39 and resulted in severe disease activity. When anti-gp39 was given after the disease was established, no effect on the disease activity was observed. In conclusion, we demonstrated that the CD40L-CD40 interaction is crucial for the in vivo priming of Th1 T cells via the stimulation of IL-12 secretion by antigen-presenting cells (APC).