Kinetic differences between systemic vs. intestinal and humoral vs. cellular immune responses were elucidated in chickens experimentally infected with Eimeria maxima by comparing interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) and parasite-specific antibody levels in the intestine and serum during the course of infection. The level of serum IFN-gamma correlated significantly with fecal oocyst shedding (r2 = 0.97), thereby establishing the importance of cell-mediated immunity in coccidia infection. Moreover, intestinal IFN-gamma levels increased sooner than those in sera (4 vs. 6 days postinfection) and both were observed prior to the appearance of parasite-specific antibodies (8-10 days postinfection), again indicating the importance of intestinal cellular immunity in coccidiosis. Although immunoglobulin (Ig)G, IgA, and IgM isotypes of the antigen-specific antibody response increased significantly in both the intestine and serum after E. maxima infection, intestinal IgA-specific antibodies showed the most dramatic increase. However, the relevance of this observation in the context of primary Eimeria infection is unclear because the coccidia parasites have reached the final stages of their life cycle by this time. These results thus demonstrate the importance of T-cell immune responses against coccidia, characterized by local IFN-gamma secretion in the intestine, in mediating host protective immune response to coccidia.