Recent studies demonstrated that administration of a p55-tumor necrosis factor (TNF) receptor IgG-fusion protein (TNFR-IgG) prevented the clinical onset of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis but did not alter the number or tissue distribution of autoantigen-specific CD4+ effector T cells which trafficked into the central nervous system. To determine whether specific target tissues of autoimmune damage remain intact after TNFR-IgG treatment despite the presence of inflammatory cells within the tissues, we examined rats with experimental autoimmune uveoretinitis (EAU), as in this model, the main target of autoreactive CD4+ T cells, the retinal rod outer segments (ROS), can be examined readily by light microscopy. As judged by direct ophthalmoscopy, the onset of inflammation in the anterior chamber of the eye in EAU following administration of TNFR-IgG was delayed by 6 days compared to untreated controls, but the magnitude of the response was only slightly less than controls. Histological examination of the retinae and direct assessment of retinal inflammation revealed a disproportionate sparing of ROS in the TNFR-IgG-treated animals despite a level of retinal inflammation not substantially less than controls in which ROS damage was marked. Analysis of retinal leukocytes by immunofluorescence microscopy and flow cytometry indicated that approximately equal numbers of CD4+ alpha beta TCR+ lymphocytes were present in treated and control retinae, more than 30% of CD4+ cells in both experimental groups expressed the CD25 or MRC OX40 activation markers and most cells, which would include the CD4+ T lymphocytes, were activated as evidenced by MHC class II expression. Fewer activated macrophages and granulocytes were present in the treated retinae, possibly reflecting the lower level of tissue damage and subsequent accumulation of these inflammatory cells. The results demonstrate directly that a tissue specifically targeted for autoimmune destruction can be protected despite the influx of fully activated CD4+ T cells.