The generation of knockout mice with targeted gene disruption has provided a valuable tool for studying the immune response. Here we describe the use of CD4 and CD8 knockout mice to examine the role of CD4+ and CD8+ cells in initiating allotransplantation rejection. Pretreatment with a brief course of depletive anti-CD4 monoclonal antibody therapy allowed permanent survival of heart, but not skin, allografts transplanted across a major histocompatibility barrier. However, skin as well as heart grafts were permanently accepted in the CD4 knockout mice. Transfer of CD4+ cells into CD4 knockout recipient mice 1 d before skin engraftment reconstituted rejection, demonstrating that CD4+ cells are necessary for initiating rejection of allogeneic transplants. Major histocompatibility complex disparate heart and skin allografts transplanted into CD8 knockout recipients were rejected within 10 d. This study demonstrates that CD4+ but not CD8+ T cells are absolutely required to initiate allograft rejection.