Protective immunity to the parasitic nematode Onchocerca volvulus (Ov) appears to be directed against molecules of invading L3 larvae. In this study, the cellular immune reaction to such an Ov L3 protein (S1) which is protective in an animal model was analyzed using peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) of individuals from a hyperendemic area in West Africa who were exposed to Ov but remained free from disease ('putatively immune individuals'). Despite seronegativity of these individuals against S1, proliferation of PBMC was inducible, allowing generation of an S1-specific T cell line which produced IFN-gamma upon stimulation with both Ov lysate and S1. However, S1 induced significantly more IL-5 than Ov lysate. S1-specific, DQ6 (DQA1*0103/DQB1*0603)-restricted T cell clones were generated which reacted against synthetic peptides comprising amino acids 99-111 of S1. These clones, which are the first generated against a recombinant fllarial antigen, produced both IFN-gamma and IL-5 as well as little IL-4, suggestive of a Th0-like phenotype. In conclusion, in putative immunity, reactivity against a particular parasite protein can be detectable on the level of T but not B cells. Induction of both IFN-gamma and IL-5 by S1 suggests that it may trigger macrophage plus eosinophil dependent killing of L3 in vivo. The identification of a likely DQ6 (DQA1*0103/DQB1*0603)-restricted T cell epitope may be of more general relevance, given that allele combinations of DQ6, including DQA1*0103/DQB1*0603, are negatively associated with diabetes mellitus.