Adoptive transfer of TCR-transgenic T cells uniformly expressing an identifiable TCR of known peptide/MHC specificity can be used to monitor the in vivo behavior of antigen-specific T cells. We have used this system to show that naive T cells are initially activated within the T-cell zones of secondary lymphoid tissue to proliferate in a B7-dependent manner. If adjuvants or inflammatory cytokines are present during this period, enhanced numbers of T cells accumulate, migrate into B-cell-rich follicles, and acquire the capacity to produce IFN-gamma and help B cells produce IgG2a. If inflammation is absent, most of the initially activated antigen-specific T cells disappear without entering the follicles, and the survivors are poor producers of IL-2 and IFN-gamma. Our results indicate that inflammatory mediators play a key role in regulating the anatomic location, clonal expansion, survival and lymphokine production potential of antigen-stimulated T cells in vivo.