LF 08-0299 is a new immunosuppressive compound. In a fully mismatched rat cardiac allograft model (Dark Agouti [DA]-->Lewis [LEW]), long-term unresponsiveness was observed after LF 08-0299 short-term treatment (20 days). Survival of additional cardiac and skin DA allografts, and rejection of third-party (Brown Norway [BN]) skin allografts demonstrated induction of a donor-specific tolerance state. The aim of this study was to investigate mechanisms of cardiac acceptance in this model. LEW rats with long-term surviving heart grafts (LTS LEW) were examined for their immune proliferative and cytotoxic responses toward donors (DA) and third-party (BN) antigens. Normal proliferative responses were observed and limiting dilution analysis did not reveal a reduction of T cytotoxic cell precursors. In our model, tolerance exists despite the presence of cells reactive with donor alloantigens. In vivo adoptive transfer of serum from LTS LEW failed to transfer unresponsiveness, indicating that serum factors do not seem to be involved in tolerance maintenance. Transfer of spleen cells, obtained from LTS LEW, showed specific prolongation of DA cardiac allografts in syngeneic hosts. Moreover, these cells were able to induce the rejection of third-party BN grafts. These results suggest that although LTS LEW possessed suppressor cells, they remained immunocompetent in recognizing and responding to third-party alloantigens. Purified CD4+ cells transferred unresponsiveness to secondary hosts, but CD8+ cells did not. Taken together, these results suggest that tolerance to donor alloantigens after treatment with LF 08-0299 in the rat cardiac allograft model is most likely due to induction of specific CD4+ suppressor cell activity, rather than induction of suppressive serum factor and selective elimination of antidonor helper or cytotoxic cell precursors (clonal deletion).