Fischer strain rats resist active induction of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) following immunization with guinea-pig myelin basic protein (MBP) in complete Freund's adjuvant (CFA). Nevertheless, we now report that an encephalitogenic CD4(+) anti-MBP T-cell line could be developed from actively immunized Fischer rats. Adoptive transfer of the activated line mediated acute EAE in adult Fischer rats, but not in 1-day-old rats. Moreover, we found that both resting and activated anti-MBP T cells injected 1 day post-natally rendered these rats susceptible later in life to the active induction of EAE by immunization with MBP/CFA. The actively induced EAE manifested the accelerated onset of a secondary, memory-type response. Resting anti-MBP T cells injected even up to 2 weeks post-natally produced no clinical signs but seeded 50-100% of the recipients for an active encephalitogenic immune response to MBP. An earlier T-cell injection (1-2 days) produced a higher incidence and stronger response. The transferred resting T cells entered the neonatal spleen and thymus and proliferated there but did not change the total anti-MBP precursor number in adults. Splenocytes harvested from rats that were injected neonatally but not exposed to MBP in vivo proliferated strongly and produced significant amounts of interferon-gamma to MBP in vitro. Similar results were observed in rats injected with resting T-cell lines reactive to ovalbumin, suggesting that the neonatal injection of resting T cells specific for a self or for a foreign antigen can seed the immune system with the potential for an enhanced effector response to that antigen later in life.