BALB/c mice develop aberrant T helper 2 (Th2) responses and suffer progressive disease after infection with Leishmania major. These outcomes depend on the production of interleukin-4 (IL-4) early after infection. Here we demonstrate that the burst of IL-4 mRNA, peaking in draining lymph nodes of BALB/c mice 16 hr after infection, occurs within CD4+ T cells that express V beta 4 V alpha 8 T cell receptors. In contrast to control and V beta 6-deficient BALB/c mice, V beta 4-deficient BALB/c mice were resistant to infection, demonstrating the role of these cells in Th2 development. The early IL-4 response was absent in these mice, and T helper 1 responses occurred following infection. Recombinant LACK antigen from L. major induced comparable IL-4 production in V beta 4 V alpha 8 CD4+ cells. Thus, the IL-4 required for Th2 development and susceptibility to L. major is produced by a restricted population of V beta 4 V alpha 8 CD4+ T cells after cognate interaction with a single antigen from this complex organism.