T cell anergy refers to a functional state in which the cells are alive but unable to produce IL-2 after appropriate triggering. Lack of CD28 costimulation through CD80 and CD86 molecules on APC might play a causative role in anergy induction, as previously shown with T cell clones. We now developed a model of anergy induction in cultures of freshly isolated memory T cells. Addition of either CTLA-4Ig or blocking anti-CD80 and anti-CD86 mAbs, in combination with cyclosporin A, to cultures of PBMC with soluble Ag consistently resulted in Ag-specific unresponsiveness, as evidenced upon antigenic rechallenge. In most experiments, the presence of cyclosporin A was not required, and blocking the B7-CD28 interaction during antigenic stimulation was sufficient to induce unresponsiveness. Unresponsiveness was apparent at the level of T cell proliferation as well as at the level of IL-2 and IFN-gamma production, and T cell responses to unrelated Ags were intact. Induction of unresponsiveness correlated with lack of T cell proliferation in the induction culture and could largely be prevented by supplementing the induction cultures with rIL-2, indicating that lack of IL-2 was responsible for this altered functional state. Unresponsive T cells did not suppress the proliferation of autologous T cells in response to original or third-party Ags. On the other hand, culture with IL-2 and Ag could reverse established T cell unresponsiveness, pointing to anergy rather than deletion as the underlying mechanism. Anergy induction in freshly isolated memory T cells opens perspectives for treatment of autoimmune and allergic diseases.