Oral administration of antigen leads to systemic immune unresponsiveness. Low dose oral tolerance generates regulatory cells which, when triggered in an antigen-specific manner, suppress inflammatory responses. We have previously shown that oral administration of an organ-specific antigen, porcine insulin, protects against diabetes development in the NOD mouse. In the present study we extend these observations to the B-chain of insulin, a 30-amino-acid peptide which has now been shown by others to contain the immunogenic epitope. Oral administration of the B-chain slowed diabetes development in a co-transfer model in which cells from B-chain-fed animals were co-transferred with diabetogenic cells (P=0.02). Further exposure to antigen via feeding of the co-transfer recipient animals not only slowed diabetes development but prevented diabetes in some animals (P=0.01). In vitro proliferation of popliteal lymph node cells from fed and immunized animals was suppressed in an antigen-specific manner when cells were restimulated with the fed antigen. When those cells were cultured and restimulated in vitro with the B-chain of insulin, we also observed a decrease in IFN-gamma expression and an increase in IL-4, TGF-beta and IL-10 expression. These results demonstrate that an orally protective epitope resides in the B-chain of insulin and that refeeding following adoptive transfer enhances protection. Finally, the orally administered antigen is associated with a decrease in Th1 responses and an increase in Th2 responses to the insulin B-chain.