Background. Peritransplant treatment with antithymocyte serum (ATS) and posttransplantation administration of donor bone marrow or donor splenocytes results in extended skin allograft survival. In this study, we examined the molecular basis of the tolerance promoting effect of donor bone marrow (BMC) cells and splenocytes with emphasis on the role of CD8 expression on the donor cells. Methods. (C57BL/6J x A/J)F1 mice were treated on days -1 and +2 with ATS relative to transplantation with C3H/HeJ skin. On day +7, they were infused with CD8+ BMC, CD8- BMC, CD8+ splenocytes, or CD8- splenocyte donor subpopulations isolated by magnetic or fluorescence-based sorting. In additional experiments, B10.D2(R107) mice were treated in the same manner with C57BL/6 skin and BMC or splenocytes from C57BL/6 mice in which the CD8α gene had been inactivated. Results. CD8+ donor bone marrow cells induced operational tolerance (defined as graft acceptance in the absence of chronic immunosuppression) in skin graft recipients at a dose that was reduced by 250-fold relative to unfractionated bone marrow cells (1.0 x 105 cells per recipient, median survival time (MST)=41 days vs. 2.5 x 107 cells per recipient, MST=49 days, P=0.40). Similarly, donor bone marrow cells from CD8 knockout mice did not promote graft acceptance (MST=98 days vs. animals not treated with bone marrow cells, MST=70 days, P=0.16). In contrast, the extension of graft survival by donor splenocytes did not require the presence of CD8+ donor cells because splenocytes depleted of CD8+ cells extended graft survival (MST=55 days) as well as unsorted splenocytes (44 days, P=0.2), and splenocytes from CD8 knockout animals (MST=145 days) extended graft survival at least as well as unsorted splenocytes (MST=74 days, P=0.4). Conclusions. These results suggest that the prolongation of graft survival by donor bone marrow is dependent on the presence of the CD8 molecule, whereas prolongation by donor splenocytes is not. Therefore, we suggest that the prolongation of graft survival by these cell types occurs via distinct molecular mechanisms probably mediated by different cell types.