Cells and tissues of the anterior uvea and aqueous humor express activities which inhibit immune responses. These activities include soluble factors such as TGF-β and uncharacterized cell surface interactions. Relatively little is known regarding the immunologic activities of corneal endothelium, despite its potentially important role in contributing to the immune privilege of the anterior chamber and the high success rate of corneal transplantation. In this report, in vitro studies of cultured rat corneal endothelial (CE) cells were done using S-antigen-specific LEW rat T cell lines, or S-antigen-specific T cell hybridomas, to examine the immunologic capabilities of CE cells. Monolayers of LEW rat CE cells were unable to present antigen or a mitogen, Con A, to T cell lines or hybridomas as assessed by the lack of a proliferative response or IL-2 secretion. Furthermore, the CE cells exerted a potent inhibitory effect when added to in vitro proliferation assays of T cell lines stimulated with antigen or Con A. When T cells were preactivated on conventional antigen presenting cells and then transferred to wells containing CE cells, their proliferation was not inhibited. Although CE cells inhibited activation of T cell lines and hybridomas, they did not inhibit the growth of T cell hybridomas or CTLL cells, nor did the CE cells adversely affect the viability of resting T cells cultured on CE monolayers. The inhibitory effect was reversible as preincubation of T cells on CE cells for up to 6 days followed by washes restored T cell responsiveness when assayed on splenocytes. The inability to stimulate proliferative responses was not affected by preincubation of the CE cells with lymphokines which increase MHC antigen expression. The inhibition observed in these assays was not MHC-restricted as CE cells from both LEW and BN rats were equally inhibitory. CE cells from rabbits and cats were also potent inhibitors of T cell activation, suggesting that the mechanism is evolutionarily conserved. The mechanism of inhibition by CE cells is unknown at this time.