Lymphocyte migration into fresh and preserved peripheral nerve allografts was quantitated to assess the effect of cold preservation and freeze-thawing pretreatment on the local immunological response to nerve allografts. Out-bred ewes received multiple 1.5-cm sub cutaneous heterotopic peroneal nerve autografts, fresh allografts, and pretreated allografts, implanted within the same recipient. Lymphocyte migration was studied at 7 days by injecting autologous 111indium-labeled lymphocytes intravenously. After 3 hr of recirculation, lymphocyte migration into graft tissue was quantitated by a gamma counter (cpm/g, mean ± SEM). Lymphocyte traffic into fresh nerve allografts (21,623 ± 3783) increased an average 9.4-fold over the autograft value (2918 ± 377, P<0.04). Histologic studies illustrated a marked lymphocytic infiltrate of CD4+ and CD8+ cells and enhanced class I and II MHC expression in fresh allografts, but not in autografts. Short-term cold preservation, for 6 and 12 hr (5°C), enhanced lymphocyte entry into pretreated allograft tissue. Conversely, cold preservation for longer periods (1 and 3 weeks) dramatically reduced lymphocyte migration to values below corresponding autograft levels (783±100 and 1,252 ± 120, respectively, P<0.01). A comparable reduction in lymphocyte migration into nerve allografts was observed after freeze-thawing pretreatment (JP<0.01). Cold preservation of donor allogeneic lymphocytes inhibited their capacity to induce intradermal host lymphocyte migration, implicating passenger lymphocytes as a potential cold-sensitive allogeneic component of the nerve allograft. Assessment of the local response to ovine peripheral nerve allografts, utilizing radiolabeled autologous lymphocytes, demonstrated that cold preservation and freeze-thawing pretreatment significantly reduced lymphocyte migration into nerve allografts. The mechanism(s) of reduced lymphocyte migration may involve inactivation or death of antigen-presenting cells, including passenger lymphocytes.