T cells from NOD mice display an age-dependent, TCR-inducible proliferative hyporesponsiveness that may be causal to IDDM. Exogenous IL-4 completely restores this hyporesponsiveness in vitro and prevents IDDM in vivo when administered to NOD mice. We therefore tested the hypothesis that stimulation of a Th2 response by either IL-4 or CD28 costimulation may block progression to IDDM. Low-dose IL-4 treatment beginning at 2 weeks of age (pre-insulitis) protects NOD mice from insulitis, sialitis, and thyroiditis, indicating that IL-4 modulates T cell migration to these inflammatory sites. Cytokine secretion profiles of stimulated T cells and assays of intrapancreatic cytokine concentrations revealed that IL-4 treatment prevents IDDM by stabilizing a protective Th2-mediated environment in the thymus, spleen, and pancreatic islets. Whereas treatment of NOD mice with an anti-CD28 mAb between 2 to 4 weeks of age inhibits destructive insulitis and protects against IDDM by enhancing IL-4 production by T cells, anti-CD28 treatment between 5 to 7 weeks of age does not prevent IDDM. Simultaneous anti-IL-4 treatment abrogates the protective effect conferred by anti-CD28 treatment. Our data demonstrate that stimulation of a Th2-cell-enriched environment in the pancreas during the inductive phase of disease development blocks progression to IDDM in NOD mice.