The decision to generate a productive immune response or immune tolerance following pathogenic insult often depends on the contest in which T cells first encounter Ag. The presence of apoptotic cells favors the induction of tolerance, whereas immune responses generated with necrotic cells promote immunity. We have examined the tolerance induced by injection of apoptotic cells, a system in which cross-presentation of Ag associated with the dead cells induces CD8 + regulatory (or suppressor) T cells. We observed that haptenated apoptotic cells induced CD8+ suppressor T cells without priming CD4+ T cells for immunity. These CD8+ T cells transferred unresponsiveness to naive recipients. In contrast, haptenated necrotic cells stimulated immunity, but induced CD8+ suppressor T cells when CD4+ T cells were absent. We further found that CD8+ T cells induced by these treatments displayed a "helpless CTL" phenotype and suppress the immune response by producing TRAIL. Animals deficient in TRAIL were resistent to tolerance induction by apoptotic cells. Thus, the outcome of an immune response taking place in the presence of cell death can be determined by the presence of CD4+-mediated Th cell function.