When expressed as a transgene from the keratin 14 (K14) promoter in an MHC class II-deficient mouse, I-Ab expressed in thymic cortical epithelium promotes positive but not negative selection of I-Ab-restricted CD4+ T cells (Laufer, T. M. et al., Nature 1996. 383:81-85). Transgenic mice expressing the E7 protein of human papilloma virus 16 from the K14 promoter were studied to determine the consequence of expression of a cytoplasmic/ nuclear protein from the K14 promoter. K14E7-transgenic mice express E7 in the thymus and skin without evidence for autoimmunity to E7. Repeated immunization of FVB(H-2q) or F1(C57BL/6JxFVB) mice with E7 elicited similar antibody responses to the defined B cell epitopes of E7 in K14E7-transgenic and non-transgenic animals. In contrast, for each genetic background, a single immunization with E7 elicited demonstrable T cell proliferative responses to the major promiscuous T helper epitope of E7 in the transgenic but not the non-transgenic animals. Further, E7-immunized non-transgenic F1 (FVBxC57BL/6J) animals developed strong E7-specific cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) responses and were protected against challenge with E7+ tumors, whereas similarly immunized K14E7-transgenic animals had a markedly reduced CTL response to E7 and no E7-specific tumor protection was observed, although the antibody and CTL response to ovalbumin was normal. Expression of E7 protein as a transgene from the K14 promoter in the skin and thymus thus induces E7-specific tolerance in the cytotoxic T effector repertoire, together with expansion of the E7-specific T helper repertoire. These findings demonstrate that limited tissue distribution of an autoantigen may result in "split" tolerance to that autoantigen.