Donor-specific (DST) or nonspecific blood transfusions administered before transplantation can enhance survival of vascularized allografts both in humans and animals but the immunological mechanisms of this effect remain unclear. We have analyzed the expression and the role of endogenous TGF-beta1 in a model of heart allograft tolerance, induced by pregraft DST in adult rats. We reported previously that this tolerance occurs despite a strong infiltration of leukocytes into the graft that are unable to produce both Th1- and Th2-related cytokines in vivo. Allografts from DST-treated rats express high levels of TGF-beta1 mRNA and active protein. This phenomenon is correlated with the rapid infiltration of leukocytes producing high amounts of TGF-beta1. TGF-beta1-producing cells are virtually absent among early infiltrating cells in rejected grafts but are found at a later time point. The induction of allograft tolerance in vivo is abrogated by administration of neutralizing anti-TGF-beta mAb. Moreover, overexpression of active TGF- beta1 in heart allografts using a recombinant adenovirus leads to prolonged graft survival in unmodified recipients. Taken together, our results identify TGF-beta as a critical cytokine involved in the suppression of allograft rejection induced by DST and suggest that TGF-beta-producing regulatory cells are also involved in allograft tolerance.