IL-10 is a product of activated keratinocytes and is released during the induction phase of contact sensitivity. As IL-10 effects have been described as being mediated by APC, we investigated effects of IL-10 on epidermal Langerhans cells (LC), the resident APC in the epidermis. Initial studies failed to demonstrate effects of IL-10 on MHC class II Ag expression by LC or anti-CD3 mAb- or alloantigen-induced LC-dependent T cell proliferation. However, production of IFN-gamma and IL-2, (but not IL-6) was markedly reduced in these assays. When the soluble-protein Ag specific T cell clones AE7 (Th1) and D10.G4 (Th2) were substituted for unprimed T cells, differential effects of IL-10 on T-cell proliferation were observed. Whereas IL-10-pretreated and untreated LC supported Th2 cell proliferation equally well, IL-10-pretreated LC were essentially unable to induce Th1 cell proliferation in response to native protein or peptide Ag. The inhibitory influence of IL-10 on Th1 cells was observed when fresh or 1 day cultured LC were used; 2- or 3-day cultured LC were affected to a much lesser extent by IL-10 pretreatment. Further, coculture experiments using IL-10-pretreated or untreated LC of a different haplotype suggest that IL-10 negatively regulates a costimulatory signal required for induction of Th1 cell proliferation. To assess whether T cells incubated with Ag and IL-10-pretreated LC were responsive to further stimulation, T cells were rescued after 1 day of coculture with IL-10-pretreated LC and restimulated, either immediately or after 1 to 5 days of rest, with untreated LC in the presence of Ag. T cells incubated with IL-10-pretreated LC were found to be anergic, whereas T cells incubated with untreated LC proliferated normally after further stimulation. However, anergic T cells responded vigorously to IL-2. These data indicate that although IL-10-pretreated LC are effective APC for Th2 cells, they fail to induce Th1 cell proliferation and rather induce clonal anergy in these cells.