Résumé : BACKGROUND & AIMS: Few data are available on the potential role of T lymphocytes in experimental acute pancreatitis. The aim of this study was to characterize their role in the inflammatory cascade of acute pancreatitis. METHODS: To type this issue, acute pancreatitis was induced by repeated injections of cerulein in nude mice and in vivo CD4(+) or CD8(+) T cell-depleted mice. The role of T lymphocyte-costimulatory pathways was evaluated using anti-CD40 ligand or anti-B7-1 and -B7-2 monoclonal blocking antibodies. The role of Fas-Fas ligand was explored using Fas ligand-targeted mutant (generalized lymphoproliferative disease) mice. Severity of acute pancreatitis was assessed by serum hydrolase levels and histology. Intrapancreatic interleukin 12, interferon gamma, Fas ligand, and CD40 ligand messenger RNA were detected by reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction. Intrapancreatic T lymphocytes were identified by immunohistochemistry. RESULTS: In control mice, T cells, most of them CD4(+) T cells, are present in the pancreas and are recruited during acute pancreatitis. In nude mice, histological lesions and serum hydrolase levels are significantly decreased. T-lymphocyte transfer into nude mice partially restores the severity of acute pancreatitis and intrapancreatic interferon gamma, interleukin 12, and Fas ligand gene transcription. The severity of pancreatitis is also reduced by in vivo CD4(+) (but not CD8(+)) T-cell depletion and in Fas ligand-targeted mutant mice. Blocking CD40-CD40 ligand or B7-CD28 costimulatory pathways has no effect on the severity of pancreatitis. CONCLUSIONS: T lymphocytes, particularly CD4(+) T cells, play a pivotal role in the development of tissue injury during acute experimental pancreatitis in mice.