The programmed death-1 (PD-1) molecule is involved in peripheral tolerance and in the immune escape mechanisms during chronic viral infections and cancer. PD-1 interacts with two ligands, PD-L1 and PD-L2. We have investigated the molecular mechanisms of PD-1 interactions with its ligands by surface plasmon resonance and cell surface binding as well as the ability of the two ligands to compete for PD-1 binding. PD-L1 and PD-L2 bound PD-1 with comparable affinities, but striking differences were observed at the level of the association and dissociation characteristics. PD-L1, but not PD-L2, had a delayed interaction reminiscent of a phenomenon of conformational transition. These mechanisms were confirmed by using PD-L1 mAbs that delayed the dissociation of PD-L1 from PD-1. This mechanism was not restricted to PD-1 binding since PD-L1 behaved in a similar manner with its second ligand, CD80. Finally, we could demonstrate that PD-L1 and PD-L2 competed for PD-1 binding and conversely, an antagonist PD-1 mAb blocked both PD-L1 and PD-L2 binding to PD-1 and strongly enhanced T-cell proliferation. These data further emphasize the differential molecular mechanisms of interaction of PD-L1 and PD-L2 with PD-1, and suggest possible new approach for the therapy of chronic infection, cancer and transplantation.