The essential role of cytokines in parasitic diseases has been emphasised since the in vivo description of the importance of T helper 1 (Th1) and T helper 2 (Th2) CD4+ T cell responses in resistance and susceptibility to infection with L. major in mice. Th1 cells produced IL-2, IFN-gamma and Lymphotoxin T (LT) and Th2 cells produce IL-4, IL-5 and IL-13. In this model of infection the correlation between on the one hand resistance to infection and the development of a Th1 response and on the other hand susceptibility and Th2 cell development allowed the identification of the mechanisms directing the differentiation of CD4+ T cell precursors towards either Th1 type or Th2 type responses. Cytokines are the crucial inducer of functional CD4+ T cell subset differentiation during infection with L. major. IL-12 and IFN-gamma direct the differentiation of Th1 response and IL-4 of a Th2 response. In susceptible mice, careful analysis of IL-4 production during the first days of infection has shown that the IL-4 produced as a result of a very early burst of IL-4 mRNA expression (16 hours) plays a essential role in the maturation of a Th2 CD4+ T cell response by rendering the CD4+ T cell precursors unresponsive to IL-12. Activation of a restricted population of CD4+ T cells expressing the V beta 4 V alpha 8 TCR heterodimer after recognition of a single antigen, the LACK (Leishmania Activated c Kinase) antigen, resulted in this rapid production of IL-4 required for the subsequent CD4+ T cell differentiation. Thus, tolerization of these cells might contribute a strategy for preventing infection with L. major.