Continuous gastric intubation of mice with the T cell-dependent antigen sheep erythrocytes (SRBC) leads to a state of systemic unresponsiveness to parenteral SRBC challenge, a state termed oral tolerance. The systemic unresponsiveness of mice rendered orally tolerant to SRBC, however, is converted to humoral immune responsiveness by adoptive transfer of effector T contrasuppressor (Tcs) cells. In this study, the authors have isolated and characterized the Tcs cell subset, from the spleens of orally immunized mice, which abrogates oral tolerance. This Tcs cell is a novel cell type, which can be separated from functional T suppressor (Lyt-2+) and T helper (L3T4+) cells, and the effector Tcs cell exhibits a Lyt-1+, 2-, L3T4- phenotype. Furthermore, contrasuppression is not mediated by B cells, including those of the Lyt-1+ phenotype. Adoptive transfer of splenic Lyt-1+, 2-, L3T4- T cells from C3H/HeJ mice given oral SRBC for 21 to 28 days and splenic Lyt-1+, 2-, L3T4- T cells of C3H/HeN mice orally immunized for a shorter interval abrogated oral tolerance. Furthermore, separation of Lyt-1+ T cells into L3T4+ and L3T4- subsets by flow cytometry resulted in Lyt-1+, L3T4+ T cells with helper but not contrasuppressor function, whereas the Lyt-1+, L3T4- T cell fraction abrogated oral tolerance even though it was without helper activity. This Tcs cell subset was also effective when added to cultures of tolerized spleen cells derived from SRBC-fed mice. The effector Tcs cells are antigen-specific, because Tcs cells from SRBC-immunized mice reverse tolerance to SRBC but not to horse erythrocytes (HRBC), and Tcs cells from HRBC-immunized mice reverse tolerance to HRBC but not to SRBC. When splenic T3 (CD3)-positive T cells (Lyt-1+, 2-, and L3T4-) were separated into Vicia villosa-adherent and nonadherent subpopulations, active contrasuppression was associated with the T3-positive and Vicia villosa-adherent T cell fraction. Thus, a distinct Lyt-1+, 2-, L3T4- T cell subset that contains a T3-T cell receptor complex, which can regulate oral tolerance, is present in spleens of orally immunized mice.