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Patients with acute kala azar are generally nonreactive in a number of immunologic assays, including T cell proliferation and generation of macrophage-activating cytokines, principally IFN-gamma, in response to leishmania antigens in vitro. To test for potential immunosuppressive factors, a series of T cell lines and clones were established from patients with acute kala azar, from patients after chemotherapy for kala azar, and from skin test-positive adults from the same endemic region. Although CD4+ T cell lines and clones could be readily established from the skin test-positive adults, lines and clones from acute or treated patients were heavily biased in expression of CD8+. The CD8+ cells from acute patients did not themselves release cytokines in response to leishmania antigens in vitro, but markedly affected the cytokine profile of peripheral blood mononuclear cells isolated 1 yr later after recovery. Addition of the CD8+ cells caused inhibition of lymphoproliferation and IFN-gamma release, with augmentation of IL-6 and IL-10 release. The inhibitory effects of the CD8+ cells could be partially abrogated by antibodies to IL-10 but not by antibodies to IL-4. Analysis of four patients with acute kala azar demonstrated release of IL-10 that could not be demonstrated in supernatants from asymptomatic skin test-positive individuals. Generation of IL-10 may contribute to the profound suppression of IFN-gamma release that occurs during kala azar due to Leishmania chagasi.