Cytotoxic T cells play an important role in host defence mechanisms, as well as in the immunopathology of leprosy. In this study, we evaluated whether Mycobacterium leprae hsp18, hsp65 and Myco. tuberculosis hsp71 could induce cytotoxic T cell activity against autologous macrophages pulsed with these hsp. Paucibacillary (PB) patients and normal controls generated more effector cells than multibacillary (MB) patients with all three hsp tested. There was no cross-reactivity between any of the hsp tested. Mycobacterium leprae hsp65 induced cytotoxic responses only in those MB patients undergoing an erythema nodosum leprosum (ENL) episode. Although hsp65 and hsp18 induced similar proliferation in MB patients, a high proportion of these patients did not generate cytotoxic effector cells in response to hsp65. Hence, those T cells reacting to hsp65 may play an important role in the control of Myco. leprae infection.