To study the basis for immunological tolerance of peripheral tissue-specific antigens, a transgenic mouse line was established that expresses the influenza hemagglutinin (HA) on pancreatic islet beta cells (Ins-HA transgenic mice). When followed up to 14 months of age, Ins-HA transgenic mice did not develop spontaneous autoimmune disease. Upon immunization with HA-expressing viruses, high titers of HA-specific circulating antibody were detected; however, T cell responses by both the T helper and T cytolytic compartment were markedly reduced as compared with transgene-negative littermates, and no evidence could be found for islet infiltrates. Adoptive transfer of histocompatible lymphocytes from transgene-negative mice plus virus into irradiated Ins-HA hosts resulted in islet inflammation dominated by CD4+ T cells, indicating that the HA antigen was accessible to activated T cells. These results suggest that T cells can be rendered tolerant of antigens expressed outside the thymus.