Sepsis induces extensive apoptosis in T and B cells suggesting that the loss of immune effector cells could be one explanation for the profound immunosuppression observed in this disorder. Unfortunately, the mechanisms responsible for lymphocyte apoptosis in sepsis remain unknown. In T cells, apoptosis can occur through activation-induced cell death (AICD) in which engagement of the Ag receptors by cognate Ag or polyclonal activators such as bacteria-derived superantigens induces activation, proliferation, and apoptosis. We examined whether proliferation and AICD are necessary for apoptotic cell death in sepsis using normal and TCR transgenic mice. Results show that although sepsis resulted in activation of a small percentage of T cells, no proliferation was detected during the first 48 h following onset, a time when extensive apoptosis is observed. We also observed that T cells do not enter the cell cycle, and stimulation via the TCR in TCR transgenic animals does not enhance or decrease cell death in sepsis. Interestingly, T cells recovered from septic mice retained their ability to proliferate and synthesize cytokines albeit at reduced levels. With the exception of IL-10, which was increased in lymphocytes from mice with sepsis, sepsis caused a decrease in the production of both proinflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines. We conclude that lymphocyte apoptosis in sepsis does not require proliferation, TCR engagement, or AICD. Thus the immunosuppression observed in sepsis cannot be the result of T cell deletion via the TCR.