We describe the induction and prevention of autoimmune insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM), and its pathological substrate, insulitis, in congenitally athymic nude rats following injections of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) compatible lymph node T cells. The cells capable of adoptive transfer of autoimmunity were obtained from diabetes resistant (DR) BB rats that had been rendered hyperglycemic by in vivo depletion of the RT6+ regulatory T cell subset. We first established that our adoptive transfer assay system is cell dose- and time dependent and therefore amenable to quantitative analysis. It was also observed that both CD4+ and CD8+ T cells are required for efficient transfer of autoimmunity. The data indicate that, as in the NOD mouse, a synergistic interaction between CD4+ and CD8+ T cells is important for beta cell destruction. Finally, we demonstrated that the admixture of equal numbers of lymph node T cells, 60% of which were RT6+, from intact, non-diabetic DR rats prevented the adoptive transfer of IDDM mediated by diabetogenic T cells from RT6-depleted DR-BB rats. We conclude that an equilibrium between autoreactive and regulatory cells determines the expression of autoimmunity in the DR-BB rat and in the adoptive transfer of diabetes in quantitative analytical systems.