This study explores the influence of innate immunity on CD8(+) T-cell responses against heart tissue. Adoptive transfer of ovalbumin-specific CD8(+) effector T cells into CMy-mOva mice, which express ovalbumin in cardiac myocytes, results in a lethal acute myocarditis. The inflammatory infiltrate in the heart includes neutrophils as well as T cells. We used anti-Ly6G antibody to transiently deplete neutrophils at the time of onset of disease. By day 7 after receiving 5 x 10(5) CD8(+) effector T cells, 100% of control Ig-treated CMy-mOva mice had died, while 85% of anti-Ly6G-treated mice survived indefinitely. CD8(+) T-cell infiltration and tissue damage were present in both groups, but the disease was limited in the anti-Ly6G-treated mice, with a rapid disappearance of the adoptively transferred CD8(+) T cells within 11 days. Recovery occurred even though blood neutrophil counts began to rise 48 hours after the last anti-Ly6G treatment. Recovery was associated with a chronic CD4(+) cell infiltrate, and a rapid decline in expression of IFN-gamma and IP-10 mRNA in the myocardium. Neutrophil depletion did not effect survival of CMy-mOva mice that received 3 x 10(6) CD8(+) T cells. These data show that granulocytic inflammation sustains CD8(+) T-cell-mediated heart disease, which has important implications for the pathogenesis and treatment of acute myocarditis and allograft rejection.