Regulatory cells developed after donor-specific transfusion (DST)-induced acceptance of a LEW heart transplanted into a DA rat. Both DST and the cardiac transplant were necessary to generate the regulatory cells. This donor-specific tolerance can then be transferred into a new DA recipient by adoptive transfer of lymphocytes from the DST-treated long term survivor (LTS) in a dose-dependent manner. The effectiveness of tolerance did not diminish over five generations of adoptive transfer, thus supporting its infectious nature. Although both spleen and lymph node cells were equally effective, graft-infiltrating lymphocytes were more potent. A high level of indirect CTL activity and MLC proliferation were observed in lymphocytes from LTS. In vivo tracking of adoptively transferred CFSE-labeled splenocytes from LTS showed equivalent FACS proliferation and a higher percentage of graft-infiltrating lymphocytes 7 days after heart transplantation, compared with adoptively transferred naive splenocytes. Adoptive transfer of CD8+-depleted LTS splenocytes resulted in 100% subsequent LEW allograft acceptance; whereas CD4+ depletion decreased acceptance to 40%, and depletion of both CD4 and CD8 resulted in 0% acceptance. When positively selected CD4+ or CD8+ cells were adoptively transferred, 100% or 62.5% of LEW cardiac allografts survived, respectively. In conclusion, DST alone promotes a donor-specific infectious tolerance of a heart graft that can be adoptively transferred to subsequent naive allograft recipients despite the undiminished in vitro immunological response to donor Ag. Although both CD4+ and CD8+ populations are responsible for the regulatory mechanism in DST-induced tolerance, the CD4+ population appears to dominate.