Leukocyte infiltration into infected tissues is essential for the clearance of microorganisms. In animals with a cell-mediated immune (CMI) response to the infectious agent, as opposed to naive animals, leukocyte migration is greatly enhanced into sites of the organism or antigen. The role of the,chemotactic cytokine or chemokine, macrophage inflammatory protein-1 alpha (MIP-1 alpha), in the expression phase of the CMI response and in protection against Cryptococcus neoformans was assessed. With the use of a gelatin sponge model in mice as a means of detecting an anti-cryptococcal delayed-type hypersensitivity (DTH) reaction, we found that MIP-1 alpha levels in fluids from cryptococcal antigen (CneF)-injected sponges in immunized mice (DTH-reactive sponges) were significantly increased over levels of MIP-1 alpha in fluids from saline-injected control sponges at 12 and 24-30 h after injection. MIP-1 alpha levels peaked before increases in neutrophils and lymphocytes in the DTH-reactive sponges, suggesting that MIP-1 alpha was responsible, at least in part, for attracting these leukocyte types. Immunized mice treated with neutralizing antibody to MIP-1 alpha before sponge injection with CneF had reduced numbers of neutrophils and lymphocytes in the DTH-reactive sponges and showed reduced clearance of C. neoformans from the lungs, spleens, livers, and brains when compared with controls. Furthermore, injection of rmMIP-1 alpha into sponges in naive mice resulted in an increase in the influx of neutrophils and lymphocytes into the sponges compared with saline-injected sponges. Together our findings provide solid evidence that MIP-1 alpha is a component of the anticryptococcal DTH reaction. In addition, MIP-1 alpha influences neutrophil influx and attracts lymphocytes into the DTH reaction site. Finally, we showed that MIP-1 alpha plays a role in protection against C. neoformans.