Inducible co-stimulator (ICOS) is the third member of the CD28/cytotoxic T-lymphocyte associated antigen-4 family and is involved in the proliferation and activation of T cells. A detailed functional analysis of ICOS on peripheral blood T cells from patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) has not yet been reported. In the present study we developed a fully human anti-human ICOS mAb (JTA009) with high avidity and investigated the immunopathological roles of ICOS in SLE. JTA009 exhibited higher avidity for ICOS than a previously reported mAb, namely SA12. Using JTA009, ICOS was detected in a substantial proportion of unstimulated peripheral blood T cells from both normal control individuals and patients with SLE. In CD4+CD45RO+ T cells from peripheral blood, the percentage of ICOS+ cells and mean fluorescence intensity with JTA009 were significantly higher in active SLE than in inactive SLE or in normal control individuals. JTA009 co-stimulated peripheral blood T cells in the presence of suboptimal concentrations of anti-CD3 mAb. Median values of [3H]thymidine incorporation were higher in SLE T cells with ICOS co-stimulation than in normal T cells, and the difference between inactive SLE patients and normal control individuals achieved statistical significance. ICOS co-stimulation significantly increased the production of IFN-gamma, IL-4 and IL-10 in both SLE and normal T cells. IFN-gamma in the culture supernatants of both active and inactive SLE T cells with ICOS co-stimulation was significantly higher than in normal control T cells. Finally, SLE T cells with ICOS co-stimulation selectively and significantly enhanced the production of IgG anti-double-stranded DNA antibodies by autologous B cells. These findings suggest that ICOS is involved in abnormal T cell activation in SLE, and that blockade of the interaction between ICOS and its receptor may have therapeutic value in the treatment of this intractable disease.