T cell receptor (TCR) down-modulation after antigen presentation is a fundamental process that regulates TCR signal transduction. Current understanding of this process is that intrinsic TCR/CD28 signal transduction leads to TCR down-modulation. Here, we show that the interaction between programmed cell death 1 ligand 1 (PD-L1) on dendritic cells (DCs) and programmed death 1 (PD-1) on CD8 T cells contributes to ligand-induced TCR down-modulation. We provide evidence that this occurs via Casitas B-lymphoma (Cbl)-b E3 ubiquitin ligase up-regulation in CD8 T cells. Interference with PD-L1/PD-1 signalling markedly inhibits TCR down-modulation leading to hyper-activated, proliferative CD8 T cells as assessed in vitro and in vivo in an arthritis model. PD-L1 silencing accelerates anti-tumour immune responses and strongly potentiates DC anti-tumour capacities, when combined with mitogen-activated kinase (MAPK) modulators that promote DC activation.