We have prevented graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) by tolerizing graft donors to host antigens by intrathymic injection of recipient-type splenocytes into donors. A unidirectional GVHD model was used in which intravenous injection of 3-4 x 10(8) Lewis rat (donor) lymphocytes into (Lewis x Brown Norway)F1 rats (recipients) causes lethal GVHD. The donor animals were divided into five treatment groups. The group 1 donor animals received no treatment. The group 2 donors received a single intraperitoneal injection of 1 ml of antilymphocyte antiserum (ALS). The group 3 donors received an intrathymic injection of 50x10(6) host splenocytes. The group 4 donors received both ALS (intraperitoneally) and intrathymic allograft. The group 5 donors received both ALS (intraperitoneally) and intravenous allograft. Two weeks after these treatments, 3-4x10(8) lymphocytes from each of these donors were injected (intravenously) into the recipients. The clinical signs of GVHD, as measured by profound weight loss, hair loss, inflammation of foot pads and ears, and profound splenomegaly, were evident in recipients of groups 1, 2, and 3 between days 9 and 10 and in the recipients (two of four) of group 5 on day 17. No GVHD was observed by histopathology in all 14 hosts that received lymphocyte injection from the group 4 donor animals (up to 300 days). These results demonstrate that GVHD can be eliminated by tolerizing donors toward host by intrathymic injection of the recipient-type lymphocytes into the donor. A single injection of ALS is necessary to possibly eliminate antihost response from the donor for the tolerance induction. The thymic route appears to be superior to the intravenous route for tolerance induction.