Previous studies have shown that CD4+ T cells are responsible for the great strength of cell-mediated xenograft rejection in the mouse. In vitro studies have suggested that this CD4+ response is to xenogeneic antigens that are presented indirectly. The present studies were carried out in order to determine whether the strength of cell-mediated xenograft rejection in vivo is dependent on the CD4+ indirect response. We grafted pig skin onto mice that express class II MHC antigens only on their thymic epithelial cells (II-4+ mice). These mice have normal numbers of functional peripheral CD4+ T cells; however they lack class II MHC expression on their antigen presenting cells and are thus incapable of mounting a CD4+ T cell-mediated indirect response. Xenograft survival was prolonged on these mice. Furthermore, administration of cyclosporine and anti-CD8 monoclonal antibodies to II-4+ recipients prolonged xenograft survival to at least the same extent as allograft survival, demonstrating that the strength of cell-mediated xenograft rejection resides in the CD4+ indirect response. Despite the increased survival time, xenograft rejection still occurred in the absence of the indirect pathway. Depletion of the II-4+ recipients of their CD4+ T cell population prolonged xenograft survival even further, suggesting the presence of a weaker CD4+ direct mechanism which was virtually undetectable in vitro.