BACKGROUND: Cell encapsulation holds promise for the chronic delivery of recombinant proteins such as erythropoietin. Encapsulated xenogeneic mouse C2C12 myoblasts display long-term survival in the central nervous system whereas they do not in the subcutaneous tissue, suggesting that encapsulation only partially prevents affector and effector mechanisms of the host immune response. Transient immunosuppression with FK506 at the time of subcutaneous implantation leads, however, to their long-term survival. The nature of this acceptance was further investigated in this report. METHODS: Fischer rats were rendered unresponsive to encapsulated murine C2C12 myoblasts secreting mouse erythropoietin by either a 1- or 4-week initial treatment of FK506. To examine the extent of xenograft acceptance, animal were challenged with a second implant 9 weeks after the initial implantation. RESULTS: Challenging animals treated only 1 week with FK506 led to rejection of both primary and secondary implants. Animals administered FK506 for 4 weeks accepted both implants over the period investigated. However, these animals rejected unencapsulated xenogeneic cells injected at a later time, highlighting the requirement of the polymer membrane for immune protection. Developed unresponsiveness to encapsulated xenogeneic myoblasts lasted over extended periods (at least 7 months), in the absence of both immunosuppression and stimulating xenoantigens. CONCLUSIONS: These findings reveal that host acceptance of encapsulated but not unencapsulated xenogeneic myoblasts can be developed in the subcutaneous tissue after transient FK506 immunosuppression. This may have direct clinical relevance as it enables capsules to be replaced without additional immunosuppression, facilitating long-term cell-based therapies.