Continuous administration of soluble protein antigen to BALB/c mice inhibits the development of Th1 and induces selective differentiation of Th2 cells. Here we show that interleukin (IL)-12, administered together with soluble protein through a mini-osmotic pump implanted subcutaneously, not only prevents the inhibition of Th1 cell development, but stimulates higher interferon (IFN)-gamma production than in mice receiving IL-12 alone. In parallel to co-stimulation of Th1 cell development, co-administration of IL-12 blocks the Th2 response induced by soluble protein. IL-12 administered in adjuvant with antigen or intraperitoneally 2 days after the immunization does not break the inhibition of Th1 but can still decrease the Th2 response induced by pretreatment with soluble protein antigen. In contrast to IL-12, co-administration of IL-2 or IFN-gamma does not affect the diversion to Th2 induced by soluble antigen. Thus IL-12, but not IL-2 nor IFN-gamma, converts in vivo the inhibitory signal for Th1 cell development delivered by soluble antigen into an immunogenic one, while blocking a positive signal for Th2 cell differentiation. A molecular basis for the co-stimulation of Th1 priming and the prevention of Th2 differentiation by IL-12 in vivo is provided by the observation that transcripts encoding the IL-12 receptor beta2 chain, which is required for IL-12 signaling and Th1 cell development, are selectively inhibited by soluble antigen but are enhanced by IL-12 co-administration.