We have used transgenic mice to study immune tolerance to autologous, non-MHC encoded proteins that are expressed at physiological levels in the circulation. The transgenic mice used in these studies express the human preproinsulin gene and synthesize human proinsulin. Human and mouse insulin are secreted from the pancreatic islets of transgenic mice in response to normal physiological stimuli, such as glucose. Our data demonstrate that the transgenic mice have acquired tolerance to human insulin. The repertoire of T cells specific for exogenous antigens is shaped by the acquired tolerance to autologous proteins since pork but not beef or sheep insulin is also nonimmunogenic in the transgenic mice. We also found that the transgenic mice were tolerant to human proinsulin, the intracellular precursor of insulin. Unresponsiveness to human proinsulin most likely results from tolerance of insulin-specific and proinsulin-specific T cells that recognize the secreted enzymatic cleavage products of proinsulin, insulin and C-peptide.