UVB irradiation (700 J/m2) of bone marrow cells (UVB-BMC) before transplantation into lethally gamma-irradiated (10.5 Gy) allogeneic rats prevents graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) and induces a stable complete lymphohematopoietic chimerism. To better understand the underlying mechanism of the development of stable chimerism and induction of tolerance to donor organs in this model, we examined if the addition of T cells or dendritic cells (DC), as antigen presenting cells (APC), would restore the immunogenicity of UVB-BMC in in vitro mixed lymphocyte reaction (MLR) and induce in vivo bone marrow (BM) graft rejection. Whereas gamma-irradiated, unfractionated BMC induce allogeneic T cells to proliferate, UVB irradiation of BMC abolishes the stimulatory capacity of such cells in a primary MLR. Addition of purified T cells, CD4+ T cells, CD8+ T cells or B cells, respectively, failed to restore the capacity of UVB-BMC to stimulate allogeneic T- cell proliferation. In contrast, the addition of only a small number of splenic accessory cells or purified DC, which by themselves were relatively ineffective in stimulating T-cell proliferation, restored the accessory function and the allostimulatory capacity of UVB-BMC. To define the molecular defect induced by UVB irradiation, cytokines were added as costimulatory factors to primary MLRs and the results showed that the addition of interleukin (IL)-2 or IL-6 but not IL-1 or interferon gamma (IFN-gamma) restored the stimulatory capacity of UVB BMC. This finding suggests that UVB may alter the production, and/or utilization of IL-2 and IL-6 either at the membrane or cytoplasmic level. Parallel in vivo studies showed that addition of DC to UVB BM inoculum resulted in failure of BM engraftment, whereas addition of T cells led to development of fatal GVHD, thus suggesting that UVB modulation of accessory cells reduces graft immunogenicity and prevents BMT rejection, while modulation of T cells prevents GVHD. Our data provide evidence that UVB modulation of APC and mature T cells contained within BMC is potentially useful in preventing GVHD without endangering successful engraftment and may serve as a model for induction of adult chimerism and tolerance without the development of GVHD.