The role of TGF-beta1 in the regulation of T cell responses has been perplexing, possibly because it is dependent on the type of T cell being regulated and its cytokine microenvironment. In the present study, we demonstrate that TGF-beta1 has a profound inhibitory effect on naive CD4+ T cell undergoing differentiation under defined neutral, Th1 and Th2 priming conditions. In addition, we show that if CD4+ T cells are primed in the presence of TGF-beta1, they exhibit reduced secondary anti-CD3/anti-CD28-induced and antigen-specific immune responses (even when TGF-beta is absent during the secondary response), which is not due to reduced expression of co-stimulatory molecules or to inadequate IL-2 production. Finally, with respect to the effect of TGF-beta on fully differentiated antigen-specific memory CD4+ T cells, we demonstrate that while antigen-specific activation and cytokine secretion by memory Th1 T cells is inhibited by TGF-beta1, such inhibition is associated with partial down-regulation of IL-12 receptor beta2 chain expression. In contrast, memory Th2 T cells are not subject to TGF-beta1 -mediated suppression. In summary, these studies reveal that TGF-beta1 is a powerful negative regulator of the primary immune response of CD4+ T cells, but only Th1 T cells are subject to such regulation after the memory stage of T cell differentiation has been reached. Thus, these studies define the potential regulatory role of TGF-beta1 in Th1 and Th2 T cell-mediated autoimmunity.