Effective activation of T cells requires engagement of two separate T-cell receptors. The antigen-specific T-cell receptor (TCR) binds foreign peptide antigen-MHC complexes, and the CD28 receptor binds to the B7 (CD80/CD86) costimulatory molecules expressed on the surface of antigen-presenting cells (APC). The simultaneous triggering of these T-cell surface receptors with their specific ligands results in an activation of this cell. In contrast, CTLA-4 (CD152) is a distinct T-cell receptor that, upon binding to B7 molecules, sends an inhibitory signal to T cell activation. Many in vitro and in vivo studies demonstrated that both CD80 and CD86 ligands have an identical role in the activation of T cells. Recently, functions of B7 costimulatory molecules in vivo have been investigated in B7-1 and/or B7-2 knockout mice, and the authors concluded that CD86 could be more important for initiating T-cell responses, while CD80 could be more significant for maintaining these immune responses. In this study, we directly compared the role of CD80 and CD86 in initiating and maintaining proliferation of resting CD4(+) T cells in an in vitro mode system that allowed to provide the first signal-to-effector cells through the use of suboptimal doses of PHA and the second costimulatory signal through cells expressing CD80 or CD86, but not any other costimulatory molecules. Using this experimental system we demonstrate that the CD80 and CD86 molecules can substitute for each other in the initial activation of resting CD4(+) T cells and in the maintenance of their proliferative response.