Occupancy of CTLA-4 (cytotoxic T-lymphocyte antigen-4 or CD152) negatively regulates the activation of mouse T lymphocytes, as indicated by the fate of CTLA-4-deficient mice, by the impact of anti-CTLA-4 monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) on mouse T-cell activation in vitro and by the impact of CTLA-4 blockade on the course of experimental tumoral, autoimmune, alloimmune or infectious disease in this animal. The function of human CTLA-4, however, remains less clear. The expression and function of human CTLA-4 were further explored. CTLA-4 was expressed under mitogenic conditions only, its expression being, at least partially, dependent on the secretion of interleukin-2. Memory T cells expressed CTLA-4 with faster kinetics than naive T cells. The functional role of human CTLA-4 was assessed utilizing a panel of four anti-CTLA-4 mAbs that blocked the interaction between CTLA-4 and its ligands. These mAbs, in immobilized form, profoundly inhibited the activation of T cells by immobilized anti-CD3 mAb in the absence of anti-CD28 mAb, but co-stimulated T-cell activation in the presence of anti-CD28 mAb. Finally, and importantly, blockade of the interaction of CTLA-4 with its ligands using soluble anti-CTLA-4 mAbs, in intact form or as Fab fragments, enhanced T-cell activation in several polyclonal or alloantigen-specific CD80- or CD80/CD86-dependent assays, as measured by cytokine production, cellular proliferation or cytotoxic responses. It is concluded that interaction of CTLA-4 with its functional ligands, CD80 or CD86, can down-regulate human T-cell responses, probably by intracellular signalling events and independent of CD28 occupancy.