After subcutaneous immunization of mice with viable Listeria monocytogenes (LM), we evaluated the function of T cells induced in draining lymph nodes (LN) and spleen as determined by the local transfer of delayed-type hypersensitivity (DTH), acquired cellular resistance (ACR) and in vitro lymphokine production. LN cells could transfer specifically DTH but not ACR. In contrast, spleen cells from the same donor mice evoked the DTH response as well as bacterial clearance at the reaction site. Comparison of bacterial counts in spleen and in LN upon subcutaneous inoculation of mice with LM suggested that the lack of bacterial proliferation in LN underlay the failure to induce protective T cells in this lymphoid tissue. Spleen and LN T cells expressed CD4 and CD8 surface antigens equally and DTH response was solely dependent on CD4+ cells. Another major difference between LN and spleen cells was the profile of lymphokines produced in vitro. Upon the in vitro restimulation with killed Listeria, immune spleen cells produced macrophage chemotactic factor (MCF), interleukin-2 (IL-2) and interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma). In contrast, LN cells could produce all of the measured lymphokines but not IFN-gamma. The results provided strong evidence for the dissociation of DTH and ACR. Listerial growth appeared to be the requirement for full maturation of anti-listerial immunity that may coincide with the generation of IFN-gamma-producing T cells.