The regulation of immune responses to gastrically administered TI antigens has been investigated, and the characterization of a regulatory cell population has been performed. Intragastric administration of TNP-haptenated homologous erythrocytes (TNP-MRBC) induced splenic IgM anti-TNP PFC responses in LPS nonresponsive C3H/HeJ mice that were higher than those in LPS-responsive C3H/HeN mice and similar to those noted in athymic (nu/nu) C3H/HeN animals. The simultaneous intragastric administration of LPS with TNP-MRBC augmented immune responses in a manner similar to that previously reported for parenterally administered LPS and antigen. Further, LPS-induced augmentation of TNP-MRBC responses was greater in athymic mice. These findings were substantiated using in vitro spleen cultures. Intragastric challenge with a 2nd TI antigen, TNP-LPS, induced approximately 8-fold higher splenic anti-TNP PFC responses in athymic C3H/HeN mice compared with those in euthymic littermates. By admixture of B and T cell populations, it was demonstrated that the host responsiveness to TNP-LPS was negatively regulated by suppressor cells. Suppressive activity resided in a Thy 1.2-bearing, irradiation-resistant, nylon wool-nonadherent cell population. These cells could be demonstrated in spleen and Peyer's patches from young or old LPS-responsive C3H/HeN mice, but not in tissues from LPS nonresponsive C3H/HeJ mice. The specificity of the regulator cells was not limited to TNP-LPS responses, since immune responsiveness to another TI antigen, TNP-dextran, was also under the control of this cell population. These studies confirm the TI nature of TNP-MRBC and indicate that immune responses to gastrically administered antigens such as TNP-LPS, TNP-dextran, and possibly TNP-MRBC are negatively regulated by a suppressor T cell population. A role for endogenous LPS in the generation of regulator cells and the effect of these cells on host responses to gut-derived antigens is discussed.