For T cells to be optimally activated, recognition of Ag/MHC complexes by the TCR must be accompanied by a second, costimulatory signal that can be provided efficiently by the related costimulatory molecules CD80 (B7-1) and CD86 (B7-2). Recently, CD80 and CD86 have been implicated as differential determinants of Th1- vs Th2-type cytokine profiles. However, this remains a controversial issue since conflicting results have been obtained in different experimental models both in vivo and in vitro. To investigate the role of CD80 and CD86 in Th subset differentiation, we have examined the cytokine profiles induced in TCR transgenic T cells stimulated by peptide in association with splenic APCs obtained from knockout mice that selectively lack expression of either the CD80 or the CD86 molecule. Our data suggest that CD86, and to a lesser extent CD80, can make significant contributions to the production of both IL-4 and IFN-gamma. However, neither molecule plays an obligatory role in priming for the production of either effector cytokine. Furthermore, CD80 and CD86 contribute to the magnitude of T cell activation, but do not appear to selectively regulate Th1 vs Th2 differentiation.