Juvenile diabetes (type 1) is an autoimmune disease in which CD4(+) T cells play a major role in pathogenesis characterized by insulitis and beta cell destruction leading to clinical hyperglycemia. To date, no marker for autoimmune T cells has been described, although it was previously demonstrated that autoimmune mice have a large population of CD4(+) cells that express CD40. We show here that established, diabetogenic T cell clones of either the Th1 or Th2 phenotype are CD40-positive, whereas nondiabetogenic clones are CD40-negative. CD40 functionally signals T cell clones, inducing rapid activation of the transcription factor NFkappaB. We show that autoimmune diabetes-prone nonobese diabetic mice have high levels of CD40(+)CD4(+) T cells in the thymus, spleen, and importantly, in the pancreas. Finally, as demonstrated by adoptive transfers, CD4(+)CD40(+) cells infiltrate the pancreatic islets causing beta-cell degranulation and ultimately diabetes.