BALB/c mice have been an exceptional susceptibility to Leishmania tropica infection such that cutaneous lesions grow without restraint in all cases leading to fatal metastasis and visceralization in normal and x-irradiated, bone-marrow reconstituted (XBM) animals. Adult thymectomized, x-irradiated, bone marrow-reconstituted (ATxXBM) BALB/c mice, however, show pronounced retardation of lesion growth leading to some survival and even cures. A similar trend was also found in moderately susceptible (BALB/c X C57BL/6)F1 mice, in contrast with the "resistant" CBA strain, in which, as previously known, ATxXBM animals showed impairment of normal, spontaneous self-healing. These convere effects are paralleled by respective leishmania-specific delayed-type hypersensitivity (DTH) reactivities, prior thymectomy leading to diminution in CBA and augmentation in BALB/c and (BALB/c X C57BL/6)F1. Anti-leishmanial DTH responses, amplfiable by cyclophosphamide pretreatment, can be detected in BALB/c mice within 10 d of infection with 2 X 10(7) promastigotes, but becomes near-totally suppressed by day 25-35. No such suppressin is found in CBA, C57BL/6, or (BALB/c X C57BL/6)F1 mice together with varying degrees of immune control of lesion development or regression. Suppression of DTH in BALB/c mice is leishmania specific and does not extent to 2,4-dinitrofluorobenzene (DNFB) or sheep erythrocytes specificities. Spleen cells from suppressed L. tropica-infected mice when transferred to normal BALB/c mice impaired the induction of DTH to leishmanial antigen. This property resided in the T cell-enriched fraction and not in the T cell-depleted fraction. It is concluded that a major component of the striking inability of BALB/c mice to control L. tropica infection involves profound impairment of a potentially curative cell-mediated immune response by suppressor T cell generation. The possibility is discussed that this may be secondary to rapid amastigote (antigen) accumulation in macrophages expressing the primary genetic "defect."

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