T cell activation is the result of antigen-specific interactions with the TCR/CD3 complex and costimulation via other T cell surface receptors. Prevention of costimulation can result in clonal anergy. CTLA4Ig is a fusion protein that binds with high-affinity to the B7/BB1 ligand and blocks the interaction of this ligand with CD28 and CTLA4. We explored the immunosuppressive effects of CTLA4Ig in a murine nonvascularized heterotopic cardiac transplant model and in a model of cell mediated immunity. CTLA4Ig administered in vivo for two days at the time of transplantation resulted in significant prolongation of allograft survival (55 +/- 2.0 vs. 12.2 +/- 0.5 days for control, P < 0.03). Administration at later times or to previously primed animals produced no prolongation of graft survival. CTLA4Ig administered during in vivo immunization to the hapten TNP suppressed the contact sensitivity response and inhibited the subsequent in vitro generation of secondary TNP-specific CTL. CTLA4Ig administered in vivo had no effect on subsequent primary alloantigen-specific CTL or MLR responses--however, when added to culture the fusion protein inhibited the MLR response by 80%, but not the alloantigen-specific CTL response. CTLA4Ig inhibited CD4+ and CD8+ proliferative and cytokine responses to alloantigen. Flow cytometry showed no changes in distribution of subpopulations of T cells. These results confirm the immunosuppressive activity of CTLA4Ig in vivo in an allograft model and show that both CD4+ and CD8+ T cells are suppressed by CTLA4Ig. The most efficacious time of administration is during priming of the immune response at the time of antigen presentation.