Abstract The early events of activation were studied in paucibacillary (TT/BT) and multibacillary (BL/LL) leprosy patients by stimulation of their lymphocytes with mitogenic agents (calcium ionophore A23187/PMA) and Micobacterium leprae antigen (PGL-1). Maximum proliferation in response to PMA/A23187 and PGL-1 was observed in the BT/TT patients and the control group, respectively. Inositol triphosphate (IP 3) and calcium were constitutively elevated in BT/TT and LL/BL patients. PMA/A23187 caused an increase in both IP 3 and [Ca 2+] i in BT/TT patients and controls. PGL-1 marginally increased IP 3 levels in BT/TT patients. In the LL/BL patients, although PMA/A23187 increased IP 3 levels, but no change was seen in [Ca 2+] i, PGL-1 had no effect. Protein kinase C levels were seen to be associated with particulate fractions in BT/TT patients and were found to increase further in response to PMA/A23187. PGL-1 did not increase translocation of protein kinase C in controls or LL/BL patients. A preactivated and sensitised state of T-lymphocytes was observed in BT/TT patients, responsive to antigen and mitogens, whereas the cells of LL/BL patients were unresponsive to PGL-1. The altered signal transduction events characterised in the MB patients thus correlate well with the anergic state of their cells.