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The induction of gene transcription in response to gamma interferon is impaired in mononuclear phagocytes infected with Leishmania donovani, and the mechanisms involved are not fully understood. The changes in gene expression brought about by gamma interferon are thought to involve transient increases in the activities of cellular protein tyrosine kinases, including the Janus kinases Jak1 and Jak2, leading to tyrosine phosphorylation of the transcription factor Stat1. To investigate the mechanisms accounting for the impaired responses to gamma interferon, a model system for examining overall changes in protein tyrosine phosphorylation, activation of Jak1 and Jak2 and phosphorylation of Stat1 was developed in phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate-differentiated U-937 cells. Analysis of whole-cell lysates by antiphosphotyrosine immunoblotting showed that incubation with gamma interferon brought about specific increases in phosphotyrosine labeling of several proteins. Increased labeling of these proteins occurred to similar extents in control cells and in cells that had been infected with L. donovani for 16 h. Jak1, Jak2, and Stat1 were immunoprecipitated from control and interferon-treated cells, and tyrosine phosphorylation of these proteins, detected by antiphosphotyrosine immunoblotting was used to measured their activation. Tyrosine phosphorylation of Jak1, Jak2, and Stat1 increased markedly, in a dose-dependent manner, in U-937 cells incubated with gamma interferon. In contrast, in cells infected with L. donovani, tyrosine phosphorylation of Jak1, Jak2, and Stat1 was markedly impaired. This effect was dependent upon the duration of exposure to L. donovani and was maximal and complete at 16 h. Results similar to those observed with U-937 cells were also obtained with human peripheral blood monocytes. These findings indicate that infection of human mononuclear phagocytes with L. donovani leads to impaired gamma interferon-mediated tyrosine phosphorylation and selective effects on the Jak-Stat1 pathway. Unresponsiveness to gamma interferon for activation of this pathway may explain impaired transcriptional responses in leishmania-infected cells.