Gene-targeted mice deficient for IL-2 (IL-2 -/- mice) are free of apparent disease when maintained under germfree conditions but develop colitis and autoimmunity in a conventional environment. Here we show that colitis can be reproducibly induced in IL-2 -/- mice, but not in IL-2 +/+ mice, by i.p. immunization with Ag in CFA; thus enabling the systematic study of the immunopathogenesis of the colitis. We found that TNP-KLH or TNP-OVA had the most significant effect in inducing colitis, and while TNP-KLH immunization leads to the early appearance of activated T cells in the colons of both IL-2 -/- and IL-2 +/+ mice, only lamina propria cells of IL-2 -/- mice produced high amounts of INF-gamma. Moreover, both infiltrating colon CD4+ (69%) and CD8+ (6%) T cells secrete large amounts of IFN-gamma; however, only the depletion of CD4+ T cells leads to abrogation of the inflammation. In further analysis, we showed that the high IFN-gamma production is IL-12 driven, since colonic tissues of IL-2 -/- mice but not IL-2 +/+ mice show the presence of heterodimeric IL-12 and co-administration of anti-IL-12 with TNP-KLH completely prevented colitis and significantly reduced IFN-gamma production. Finally, we demonstrate that IL-2 -/- mice are deficient in their ability to induce Th2 responses after TNP-KLH challenge and that such immunization also leads to autoimmune-like phenomena in other organs of IL-2 -/- mice. These findings suggest that in the absence of IL-2 systemic administration of Ag induces primarily Th1 cells driven by overexpression of heterodimeric IL-12.