The nonobese diabetic (NOD) mouse spontaneously develops T cell-dependent autoimmune diabetes. Here, we investigate the role of CD40 ligand (CD40L)-CD40 costimulation in the initiation and progression of this disease. Anti-CD40L mAb treatment of 3- to 4-wk-old NOD females (the age at which insulitis typically begins) completely prevented the insulitis and diabetes. In contrast, treatment of such mice with anti-CD40L at >9 wk of age did not inhibit the disease process. These results suggest that a costimulatory signal by CD40L is required early but not in the effector phase of disease development. Anti-CD40L treatment affected the priming of islet Ag-specific T cell responses in vivo. Cytokine analysis revealed a dramatic decrease in IFN-gamma and IL-2 release without a concomitant increase in IL-4 production by T cells from anti-CD40L-treated mice. Thus, anti-CD40L impaired the islet Ag-specific Th1 cell response in vivo, and the prevention of diabetes by anti-CD40L was not associated with switching of the response from a Th1 to a Th2 profile. Cotransfer of splenocytes from anti-CD40L-treated mice with splenocytes from diabetic NOD mice into NOD/scid mice did not inhibit the transfer of disease, indicating that anti-CD40L does not prevent the disease by inducing regulatory cells. Since anti-CD40L clearly prevented the insulitis by inhibiting the development and further accumulation of pathogenic Th1 cells to islets of Langerhans, we conclude that CD40L-CD40 costimulation is required for early events in the development of spontaneous autoimmune diabetes.