CD40-deficient mice are susceptible to Leishmania major infection while their wild-type littermates can resolve the infection. Upon stimulation with L. major antigens, draining lymph node T cells of the mutant mice and the susceptible mice, BALB/c, secrete comparable amounts of IL-4. The mutant mice produce less IFN gamma than wild-type mice. The expression of IL-12 p40 mRNA was significantly lower in L. major antigen-stimulated cells of mutant mice than those of wild-type or BALB/c mice. In normal mice, engagement of CD40 activates macrophages to a leishmanicidal state in vitro in the presence of IFN gamma. The results suggest that the CD40-CD40 ligand interaction plays an important role in two critical steps of cell-mediated immunity to L. major infection: the generation of a Th1 response and activation of macrophages to a leishmanicidal state.