We have previously demonstrated that human T cells responding to porcine islets are primarily CD4+ and recognized porcine major histocompatibility complex class I molecules through the indirect pathway of antigen presentation. To determine whether this mechanism is responsible for rejection of adult porcine islets xenografts, porcine islets from adult pigs were transplanted under the kidney capsule of streptozotocin-treated CD4-knockout (KO), CD8-KO, Ig-KO and normal C57BL/6 mice. Islet xenografts were acutely rejected with similar kinetics when transplanted into normal C57BL/6 (MST=17.6 +/- 3.5 days) and Ig-KO (MST=19.0 +/- 1.7 days) mice. Interestingly, islet xenografts were rejected significantly earlier when transplanted into CD8-KO mice as compared with normal C57BL/6 (MST=7.0 +/- 0.01 days, P=2 x 10-4). Histopathological analysis revealed classical acute cellular rejection with severe diffuse interstitial cellular infiltrates in all rejected islet xenografts. In contrast, islet xenografts were not rejected when transplanted into CD4-KO mice (MST >/= 100 days, P=1 x 10-9). Histopathological analysis revealed no cellular infiltrates and intact islet xenografts. CD4+ T cells from both normal C57BL/6 and CD8-KO xenograft recipients showed detectable proliferative responses to porcine islets in the presence but not in the absence of syngeneic antigen-presenting cells. In addition, the anti-islet proliferative responses observed in normal C57BL/6 mice were significantly lower than those observed in CD8-KO mice. IgG anti-porcine antibodies were readily detected in C57BL/6 and CD8-KO xenograft recipients but not in Ig-KO or CD4-KO recipients. These results indicate that indirectly activated CD4+ T cells mediate acute rejection of adult porcine islet xenografts and that xenoreactive CD8+ T cells and antibodies are not necessary in this process.