The mechanism of protective immunity and immunologic resistance against intracellular pathogens is believed to involve the activation of Ag-specific T cells. The T cells involved in protection/resistance to Leishmania can be studied using localized American cutaneous leishmaniasis (LCL) as a model, because the disease is often self-healing. Our study was undertaken to identify specific T cell populations that had accumulated in LCL lesions on the basis of TCR V beta gene usage. RNA was derived from skin lesions and blood of eight LCL patients, as well as from purified CD4+ and CD8+ subsets from the lesions and blood of three patients. After synthesis of cDNA, V beta gene usage was assessed by polymerase chain reaction. In all eight patients, several V beta gene families were overrepresented in lesions compared to blood. More importantly, the TCR V beta repertoires of both lesional CD4+ and CD8+ subsets were skewed compared to the repertoire of the respective subsets in the blood of the same donor. The overrepresented V beta s in the CD4+ and CD8+ subsets from lesions were in most instances disparate, particularly with the V beta 6 TCR skewed in the lesional CD8+ subset. Not only were the TCR repertoires of the overrepresented V beta in the lesional CD4+ and CD8+ subsets generally distinct, but the cytokine mRNA expressed by these subsets were also discrete. Strikingly, the CD4+ subset was characterized by IFN-gamma mRNA expression and the CD8+ subset by IL-4 and IL-10 mRNA expression. These data indicate that the pathogenesis of human leishmaniasis may be explained by the balance of CD4+ type 1 and CD8+ type 2 T cells, which probably recognize distinct sets of Ag.