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Antigen-specific T cell activation depends initially on the interaction of the T cell receptor (TCR) with peptide/MHC. In addition, a costimulatory signal, mediated by distinct cell surface accessory molecules, is required for complete T cell activation leading to lymphokine production and proliferation. CD28 has been implicated as the major receptor on T cells responsible for delivering the costimulatory signal. Although two distinct ligands for CD28, B7-1 and B7-2, have been identified on antigen-presenting cells (APC), the costimulatory role of each molecule during a physiological immune response remains unresolved. In the present study, the relative roles of B7-1 and B7-2 interactions were evaluated in an allogeneic pancreatic islet transplant setting. In isolation, anti-B7-2 mAbs and, to a much lesser degree, anti-B7-1 mAbs suppressed T cell proliferative responses to allogeneic islets or splenic APC in vitro. Maximal inhibition of the allogeneic response was observed using a combination of the anti-B7-1 and anti-B7-2 mAbs. Administration of anti-B7-2 but not anti-B7-1 mAbs prolonged C3H allograft survival in B6 recipients, with a combination of both mAbs significantly prolonging rejection beyond either mAb alone. The immunosuppressive effects of the in vivo mAb treatment were not manifested in in vitro analyses as T cells isolated from suppressed mice responded normally to allogeneic stimuli in terms of both proliferation and lymphokine production. However, combined mAb therapy in vivo selectively delayed CD4+ T lymphocyte infiltration into the graft. These data suggest that both B7-1 and B7-2 costimulatory molecules are active in vivo, although B7-2 plays a clearly dominant role in this allograft model. The mechanism of immune suppression in vivo remains unresolved but may occur at sites distinct from the allograft model. The mechanism of immunse suppression in vivo remains unresolved but may occur at sites distinct from the allograst.