Spontaneous experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) develops in 100% of mice harboring a monoclonal myelin basic protein (MBP)-specific CD4+ alphabeta T-cell repertoire. Monoclonality of the alphabeta T-cell repertoire can be achieved by crossing MBP-specific T-cell receptor (TCR) transgenic mice with either RAG-/- mice or TCR alpha-/-/TCR beta-/- double knockout mice. Spontaneous EAE can be prevented by a single administration of purified CD4+ splenocytes or thymocytes obtained from wild-type syngeneic mice. The regulatory T cells (T-reg) that protect from spontaneous EAE need not express the CD25 marker, as effective protection can be attained with populations depleted of CD25+ T cells. Although the specificity of the regulatory T cells is important for their generation or regulatory function, T cells that protect from spontaneous EAE can have a diverse TCR alpha and beta chain composition. T-reg cells expand poorly in vivo, and appear to be long lived. Finally, precursors for T-reg are present in fetal liver as well as in the bone marrow of aging mice. We propose that protection of healthy individuals from autoimmune diseases involves several layers of regulation, which consist of CD4+CD25+ regulatory T cells, CD4+CD25- T-reg cells, and anti-TCR T cells, with each layer potentially operating at different stages of T-helper cell-mediated immune responses.