Tests based on tuberculin purified protein derivative (PPD) cannot distinguish between tuberculosis infection, Mycobacterium bovis BCG vaccination, or exposure to environmental mycobacteria. The present study investigated the diagnostic potential of two Mycobacterium tuberculosis-specific antigens (ESAT-6 and CFP10) in experimental animals as well as during natural infection in humans and cattle. Both antigens were frequently recognized in vivo and in vitro based on the induction of delayed-type hypersensitivity responses and the ability to induce gamma interferon production by lymphocytes, respectively. The combination of ESAT-6 and CFP10 was found to be highly sensitive and specific for both in vivo and in vitro diagnosis. In humans, the combination had a high sensitivity (73%) and a much higher specificity (93%) than PPD (7%).