Leprosy is a spectral disease in which clinical presentation is thought to be related to the host immune response. Previous investigations have suggested that selective unresponsiveness to Mycobacterium leprae in patients with lepromatous leprosy is due to the presence of M. leprae-specific T-suppressor cells. However, it has recently been suggested that CD2 modulation was the mechanism for the observed impaired immune response in lepromatous patients. Therefore, we studied the expression of CD2 and CD3 on lymphocytes in lepromatous skin lesions and peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC). Using immunohistochemical techniques, we found that virtually all of the CD3+ cells in leprosy skin lesions expressed CD2. In addition, indirect immunofluorescence flow cytometry demonstrated that most CD3+ cells in the peripheral blood possessed the CD2 marker, suggesting that CD2 expression of T-lymphocytes is normal. T-cell activation using paired anti-T11(2) and anti-T11(3) or anti-CD3 monoclonal antibodies demonstrated similar 3H-thymidine incorporation and gamma interferon production in the PBMC of lepromatous patients in comparison with the PBMC of their contacts and tuberculoid patients. However, lepromatous PBMC did not proliferate or produce gamma interferon in response to M. leprae. Our data suggest not only that CD2 expression is normal on T lymphocytes in lepromatous leprosy skin lesions but also that CD2 expression in peripheral blood lymphocytes is functional in T-cell activation. Defective CD2 modulation does not appear to be the mechanism for specific unresponsiveness in lepromatous leprosy.