Leishmania mexicana causes localized and diffuse cutaneous leishmaniasis. Patients with localized cutaneous leishmaniasis (LCL) develop a benign disease, whereas patients with diffuse cutaneous leishmaniasis (DCL) suffer from a progressive disease associated with anergy of the cellular response towards Leishmania antigens. We evaluated the production of the interleukins (IL) IL-12, IL-15, IL-18 and tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) and the expression of the costimulatory molecules CD40, B7-1 and B7-2 in monocytes from LCL and DCL patients, stimulated in vitro with Leishmania mexicana lipophosphoglycan (LPG) for 18 h. LCL monocytes significantly increased TNF-alpha, IL-15 and IL-18 production, and this increase was associated with reduced amounts of IL-12. DCL monocytes produced no IL-15 or IL-18 and showed a decreasing tendency of TNF-alpha and IL-12 production as the severity of the disease increased. No difference was observed in the expression of CD40 and B7-1 between both groups of patients, yet B7-2 expression was significantly augmented in DCL patients. It remains to be established if this elevated B7-2 expression in DCL patients is cause or consequence of the Th2-type immune response that characterizes these patients. These data suggest that the diminished ability of the monocytes from DCL patients to produce cell-activating innate proinflammatory cytokines when stimulated with LPG is a possible cause for disease progression.