As patients with diabetes mellitus are at increased risk of developing tuberculosis, we hypothesized that this susceptibility to mycobacterial infection is due to a defective Th1-cytokine response. To explore this hypothesis, we examined four groups of subjects in Indonesia: 23 patients with tuberculosis, 34 patients with tuberculosis and diabetes, 32 patients with diabetes only and 36 healthy controls. Ex-vivo production of interferon (IFN)gamma, tumour necrosis factor-alpha and interleukin (IL)-1beta, 6, 10, -12 and -4 was measured following stimulation with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Escherichia coli lipopolysaccharide and phytohaemagglutinin. Patients with active tuberculosis were found to have lower IFNgamma levels and a higher production of other pro-inflammatory cytokines and IL-4, both in the presence and absence of diabetes. Diabetes patients without tuberculosis, however, showed strongly reduced non-specific IFNgamma production, which is essential for inhibition of the initial growth of M. tuberculosis. Our data suggest that a defective non-specific immune response in diabetes may contribute to an increased susceptibility to develop tuberculosis.