In this study, we describe the functional alterations in the host immune system that occur following acute infection with Plasmodium yoelii. Further, we have addressed the question whether the transient condition of altered immune responsiveness can be restored by a cytokine therapy. The lymphoproliferative response towards concanavalin A (Con A) or to cross-linked anti-CD3 mAb was significantly diminished in acutely infected mice compared to immune and normal animals. This condition was associated with poor production of IL-2. In vivo treatment with recombinant IL-2 (rIL-2) resulted in marked diminution of parasitemia (from 24% +/- 6% to 8% +/- 3%) in mice during the acute phase of infection. Despite this diminution in parasitemia, 70% of the IL-2 treated mice died by day 17 post infection. In vivo treatment with rIL-2 led to a partial but significant restoration in lymphoproliferative response to TCR-mediated (cross-linked anti-CD3 mAb) or to Con A-induced stimulation in acutely infected mice. The transcripts for IL-4, IL-5, GM-CSF, and TNF-alpha were expressed in the splenocytes from acutely infected mice not treated with rIL-2. mRNAs for IL-2, IFN-gamma, IL-6, IL-10 which were not detected in acutely infected mice could be reversed by administration of rIL-2 in vivo. We suggest that some of the hyporesponsive T-cells in the acute phase of infection have the potential to be reversed, and this reversal is manifested also at the level of cytokine gene expression.