The phenotypic changes of T lymphocytes during the reactivation of latent Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection by activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis was monitored using flow cytometric analysis. Subsets of CD4+ and CD8+ lymphocyte populations from the lung, spleen and draining lymph nodes of infected mice were identified based on their differential expression of the cell surface antigens CD44 and CD45RB. Latent infection was characterized by an accumulation of both naive, activated and memory CD4 and CD8 T lymphocytes in the lung and mediastinal lymph nodes. No changes were observed in the spleen of mice with latent infection when compared with uninfected mice. Immediately following the activation of the HPA axis, a reduction in all CD4+ and CD8+ T cells in the lung and mediastinal lymph nodes was observed. This correlated with the reactivation of mycobacterial growth. The decrease was transient for memory and naive CD4 and CD8 T lymphocyte populations in the lung. However, the number of naive CD4 and CD8 T lymphocyte populations in the mediastinal lymph node following reactivation was less than that found in mice with latent infection. These data provide the first characterization of T lymphocyte populations which may be functionally involved in the immunological response to HPA axis-induced reactivation of M. tuberculosis infection.