We investigated the superior potency of the immunosuppressive agent FK506 on collagen-induced arthritis in rats. In our initial studies, we demonstrated that only one shot administration of FK506 at a dose of 10 mg/kg on the same day as type II collagen immunization suppressed the incidence of arthritis completely as well as humoral and delayed-type hypersensitivity (DTH) skin test responses to type II collagen. Yet no major side effects were observed in the rats treated with such a high dose of FK506. Additional studies demonstrated that pretreatment with FK506 on day -7 or day -3 was effective in suppressing the severity of arthritis and immune responses to type II collagen. The immunosuppressive effect of a single high-dose administration of FK506 continued for at least 1 week in this animal model of arthritis. A single administration of FK506 at a dose of 10 mg/kg on day 12 or 15, after the clinical onset of arthritis, was also effective in suppressing the severity of arthritis and immune response to type II collagen. We conclude that FK506, in this model, possesses an important, curative action when applied therapeutically. The outlook of FK506 treatment in clinical autoimmunity is promising at present.