It is well known that synthetic peptides are able to both induce and tolerize T cells. We have examined the parameters leading either to priming or tolerance of CD8+ cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) in vivo with a major histocompatibility complex class I (H-2 Db) binding peptide derived from the glycoprotein (GP aa33-41) of lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV). By varying dose, route, and frequency of LCMV GP peptide application, we found that a single local subcutaneous injection of 50-500 micrograms peptide emulsified in incomplete Freund's adjuvant protected mice against LCMV infection, whereas repetitive and systemic intraperitoneal application of the same dose caused tolerance of LCMV-specific CTL. The peptide-induced tolerance was transient in euthymic mice but permanent in thymectomized mice. These findings are relevant for a selective use of peptides as a therapeutic approach: peptide-induced priming of T cells for vaccination and peptide-mediated T cell tolerance for intervention in immunopathologies and autoimmune diseases.

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