The in vitro T cell nonresponsiveness or anergy to restimulation with staphylococcal enterotoxin B (SEB) following the in vivo injection of the superantigen is well characterized. Here we use mice transgenic for a V beta 8.2+ T cell receptor (TcR) (reactive with SEB) to establish a large population of anergic T cells in vivo. As expected, peripheral T cells from the SEB injected transgenic mice failed to proliferate or produce interleukin (IL)-2 following restimulation with the superantigen in vitro. However, in this system superantigen reactivity could be restored by either addition of exogenous IL-2, or stimulation with immobilized anti-TcR antibody. To evaluate the effects of superantigen-induced anergy in vivo, SEB-injected or noninjected control transgenic mice were immunized and boosted with the T cell-dependent antigen tetanus toxin (TT). SEB injection of the V beta 8.2+ transgenic mice 5 days prior to the TT immunization inhibited the anti-TT antibody response as measured over a 100-day period, whereas injection of a superantigen which does not interact with the V beta 8.2% TcR (such as SEA) did not. Furthermore, SEB injection of control nontransgenic mice did not interfere with the induction of a high titer anti-TT antibody response. In contrast to the inhibition seen when SEB was given prior to TT immunization, injection of transgenics with SEB either after the priming TT immunization or after the recall booster injection did not significantly influence the titers of anti-TT antibodies produced. These results demonstrate that the establishment of peripheral T cell anergy to superantigens inhibits the specific antigenic priming of helper T cells in vivo, but does not prevent primed T cells from helping B cells to mount an effective antibody response.