BALB/c mice are susceptible to a high-dose infection of the protozoan Leishmania major, which induces a parasite-specific antibody, Th2-like response, exclusive of a significant and protective cell-mediated Th1 component. We have shown, in contrast, that infection with a low number of parasites induces cell-mediated immunity exclusive of antibody production, and results in resistance to substantial subsequent high-dose infection. Low-dose exposure thus constitutes effective vaccination. In the present study, we analyze lymphokine production by parasite-specific T cells from those low-dose exposed, resistant mice and from normal, susceptible mice following high-dose infection. Two findings stand out. First, the parasite-specific T cells in mice rendered resistant appear not to be in an activated, effector state at the time of parasite challenge, as assessed by lack of lymphokine production on short-term stimulation with parasite antigens, but to be rather in a memory state. Second, the ratio of parasite antigen-dependent production of interferon-gamma to that of interleukin-4 by spleen cells of low-dose exposed and normal mice upon high-dose challenge takes a dramatically different course. This ratio is similar in both groups of mice shortly after challenge, but increases dramatically in the resistant and declines dramatically in the control mice over a period of weeks, such that these ratios differ by about 60-fold 12 weeks after the high-dose challenge. In addition, we show that a similar state of resistance occurs following low-dose infection with a more virulent strain of L. major. In toto, our observations suggest that resistance may be generally achievable by low-dose exposure and may be associated with a memory state which, when activated by parasite challenge, results in the evolution of the response over weeks such that the protective, Th1 component becomes ever more dominant over the Th2 component.