Infection of inbred strains of mice with Leishmania major is a well-characterized model for analysis of the development of effector CD4+ subsets of the Th1 and Th2 types in vivo. We co-administered a fusion protein, CTLA4Ig, that blocks the CD28-B7 costimulatory pathway important for optimal T cell activation, to assess the relative role for this pathway during maturation of Th1 and Th2 cells in vivo. Surprisingly, CTLA4Ig administered within the first week of infection completely abrogated progressive disease in susceptible BALB/c mice while having no effect on the protective immune response developed by resistant C57BL/6 mice. The protective effect in BALB/c mice was increasingly lost if administration of CTLA4Ig was delayed longer than 1 wk after infection. As in other protective interventions used in this model, control of infection was associated with down-regulation of IL-4 mRNA transcripts in lymph node cells recovered 5 wk after infection together with abrogation of IgE production and enhanced parasite-specific IgG2a relative to IgG1. Although a single dose of CTLA4Ig was protective, sustained delivery abolished the capacity of BALB/c mice to contain infection, suggesting that costimulation through this pathway is required at later stages of the immune response. Taken together, the data demonstrate that the priming of Th2 cells is more dependent upon the CD28-B7 pathway than the priming of Th1 cells, and suggest that the development of Th subsets in vivo may be influenced by limiting CD28-B7 costimulation.