CD4(+)CD25(+) T cells play a central role in the suppression of autoimmunity and inflammation, making their in vivo expansion a highly attractive therapeutic target. By phenotyping with a novel rat CTL antigen-4 (CTLA-4)-specific monoclonal antibody (mAb) and functional in vitro assays, we here first establish that rat CD4(+)CD25(+) T cells correspond to the regulatory T cells (Treg cells) described in mice and humans: they constitutively express CTLA-4, produce IL-10 but not IL-2, and are able to suppress the proliferation of costimulated CD25-negative indicator cells. Furthermore, we show that rat Treg cells respond less well than CD25(-) T cells to conventional costimulation, but are readily expanded in vitro with "superagonistic" CD28-specific mAb which are potent mitogens for all T cells without the need for TCR engagement. In vivo, functional Treg cells are preferentially expanded by CD28 stimulation over other T cell subsets, leading to a 20-fold increase within 3 days in response to a single antibody dose. These data suggest that CD28-driven activation of Treg cells may be highly effective in the treatment of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.