The murine intraepithelial lymphocyte (IEL) population is enriched in T cells that express the gamma delta-TCR, however, the biologic function served by these T cells remains obscure. IEL are considered to be major effector cells in mucosal immunity, and we have investigated whether IEL subsets could reverse orally induced systemic unresponsiveness (oral tolerance; OT) and support secondary type responses when adoptively transferred to mice orally tolerized with SRBC. When purified CD3+ IEL from mice orally primed with SRBC were transferred to adoptive hosts and challenged with SRBC, splenic IgM, IgG1, IgG2b, and IgA anti-SRBC plaque-forming cell responses were observed. However, CD3+ IEL from HRBC orally primed mice did not abrogate SRBC induced OT. Further, HRBC-primed CD3+, IEL converted HRBC-specific OT but not SRBC-specific OT. CD3+ IEL could be separated into four subsets based on expression of CD4 and CD8. CD3+, CD4-, 8+ T cells were the major subset (74.5%), with smaller numbers of CD4- and CD8- (double negatives, DN) (7.8%), CD4+, 8- (7.6%) and CD4+, CD8+ (double positives) (10.1%) T cells. Interestingly, both the CD3+, CD8+, and the CD3+, DN IEL subsets abrogated OT, resulting in significant IgM, IgG1, IgG2b, and IgA anti-SRBC plaque-forming cell responses when adoptively transferred to mice with OT. However, neither CD3+, CD4+, CD8-, nor double positive T cells affected OT when studied in this system. The CD3+, CD8+ IEL subset could be further separated into Thy-1+ (16.6%) and Thy-1- (83.4%) cells; adoptive transfer of Thy-1- cells abrogated oral tolerance whereas the Thy-1+ subset was without effect. When the expression of TCR on IEL with this biologic function was determined by use of monoclonal anti-alpha beta TCR (H57.597), TCR2-, CD3+ IEL possessed immunoregulatory function whereas the alpha beta-TCR+ (TCR2+) fraction did not abrogate OT. Immunoprecipitation of membrane fractions obtained from purified CD3+, CD4-, CD8+, Thy-1- IEL with polyclonal anti-delta peptide (Tyr-Ala-Asn-Ser-Phe-Asn-Asn-Glu-Lys-Leu) antibody revealed bands of 45 and 35 kDa, corresponding to the delta- and gamma-chains, respectively. These results suggest that gamma delta-TCR+ IEL possess a regulatory function, namely the restoration of immune responses in a state of oral tolerance. Further, both CD3+, CD4-, CD8+, Thy-1-, and CD3+, DN IEL T cells exhibit this effector contrasuppressor function.