Syngeneic pancreatic islet grafts in diabetic NOD mice are infiltrated by mononuclear leukocytes, beta-cells are selectively destroyed, and autoimmune diabetes recurs. This model was used to identify islet graft-infiltrating mononuclear leukocytes associated with beta-cell destruction and diabetes recurrence. We compared cell surface antigen and cytokine-producing phenotypes of mononuclear leukocytes in islet grafts from NOD mice that were protected from diabetes recurrence by complete Freund's adjuvant (CFA) administration (beta-cell nondestructive insulitis) and in islet grafts from control phosphate-buffered saline (PBS)-injected NOD mice (beta-cell destructive insulitis). Islet grafts from CFA-injected mice contained fewer CD4+ and CD8+ cells and more B cells; also fewer interferon gamma (IFN-gamma), interleukin-2 (IL-2), and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha)-positive cells and more IL-4 and IL-10 positive cells. By performing two-color immunostaining of cell surface antigens and intracellular IFN-gamma, we found that IFN-gamma positive cells in islet grafts from CFA- and PBS-injected mice were approximately equally divided between CD4+ and CD8+ T-cell subsets. Also, the frequencies of both CD4+ IFN-gamma + and CD8+ IFN-gamma + cells were decreased in islet grafts from CFA-injected mice. These findings suggest that destruction of beta-cells in syngeneic islets transplanted into NOD mice is promoted by cells producing Th1-type cytokines (IFN-gamma, IL-2, and TNF-alpha) and prevented by cells producing TH2-type cytokines (IL-4 and IL-10). Furthermore, both CD4+ and CD8+ IFN-gamma-producing T-cells in the islet grafts appear to be involved in beta-cell destruction and diabetes recurrence.