Elimination of CD25+ T cells, which constitute 5-10% of peripheral CD4+ T cells in normal naive mice, leads to spontaneous development of various autoimmune diseases. These immunoregulatory CD25+CD4+ T cells are naturally unresponsive (anergic) in vitro to TCR stimulation, and, upon stimulation, suppress proliferation of CD25-CD4+ T cells and CD8+ T cells. The antigen concentration required for stimulating CD25+CD4+ T cells to exert suppression is much lower than that required for stimulating CD25-CD4+ T cells to proliferate. The suppression, which results in reduced IL-2 production by CD25-CD4+ T cells, is dependent on cellular interactions on antigen-presenting cells (and not mediated by far-reaching or long-lasting humoral factors or apoptosis-inducing signals) and antigen non-specific in its effector phase. Addition of high doses of IL-2 or anti-CD28 antibody to the in vitro T cell stimulation culture not only breaks the anergic state of CD25+CD4+ T cells, but also abrogates their suppressive activity simultaneously. Importantly, the anergic/suppressive state of CD25+CD4+ T cells appeared to be their basal default condition, since removal of IL-2 or anti-CD28 antibody from the culture milieu allows them to revert to the original anergic/suppressive state. Furthermore, transfer of such anergy/suppression-broken T cells from normal mice produces various autoimmune diseases in syngeneic athymic nude mice. These results taken together indicate that one aspect of immunologic self-tolerance is maintained by this unique CD25+CD4+ naturally anergic/suppressive T cell population and its functional abnormality directly leads to the development of autoimmune disease.