The tolerance induced by orthotopic liver transplantation (OLT) in certain combinations of rat strains can be prevented by total body irradiation (TBI) of the donor. We demonstrate here that the intravenous inoculation of splenic leukocytes into irradiated donors before OLT could re-establish tolerance in association with a state of microchimerism detected in the recipients. When donor DA (RT1a) strain rats were irradiated with 1000 rad 24 h before liver harvesting and subsequent liver implantation into PVG recipients, five out of six rats died from rejection in this normally tolerogenic OLT (DA-PVG) combination. Injection of 1.5 x 10(8) splenic leukocytes from naive DA rats into the irradiated DA donor rats 24 h before OLT restored the tolerogenic potential of the liver allografts. Immunofluorescence assay revealed an increased number of donor (DA) type cells in the PVG recipient bearing a repopulated DA liver, compared to the PVG recipient of an irradiated liver. These results suggest that passenger leukocytes reconstituted by splenic leukocytes have the capacity to protect liver allografts.