Since both the nature and the amplitude of an antigen-specific T cell response are dependent on co-stimulatory signals, we have investigated the role of CD28/CD152-mediated T cell co-stimulation in the regulation of experimental cutaneous leishmaniasis. CD28-deficient mice and their wild-type littermates are equally susceptible to Leishmania major infection. Whole anti-CD152 antibody significantly exacerbates the disease while anti-CD152 Fab ameliorates the disease in genetically susceptible BALB/c mice but not in C57BL/6, a resistant strain. The anti-CD152-induced exacerbation of the disease is accompanied by increased IL-4-secreting cell number, diminished parasite-specific delayed-type hypersensitivity (DTH) response and augmented anti-2,4,6-trinitrophenyl (TNP) IgG1 in response to TNP-leishmanial antigen crude soluble antigen (CSA), suggesting an exaggerated Th2 type of response. Anti-CD152 Fab-mediated amelioration of the disease is associated with increased IFN-gamma-secreting cell number, increased parasite-specific DTH response and enhanced IgG2a isotype in response to TNP-CSA suggesting a Th1 type of response. Unlike TNP-CSA, TNP-keyhole limpet hemocyanin does not induce the change in Ig isotype, indicating that the immunomodulatory effect of anti-CD152 is antigen specific. Anti-CD152 antibody-induced early change in Th subsets suggests an important role for CD152 in determining the course of L. major infection, perhaps by alteration of Th subset differentiation.