To determine roles of MHC class I and II genes in protection against Toxoplasma gondii, H-2 congenic and mutant mice were infected perorally with bradyzoites of T. gondii and brain cysts were enumerated 30 days later. As B10 mice (H-2b) are cyst susceptible and B10.A mice (H-2a) are cyst resistant, B10 congenic mice having the same alleles but different H-2 haplotypes were used to locate the controlling gene. Genes located at H-2L (i.e., class I genes) were found to regulate the number of brain cysts which form following peroral infection with T. gondii (p less than 0.001) with Ld being resistant and Lb being susceptible. The regulatory function of the H-2L gene product was confirmed through the study of D mutant (dm) mice. B10.D2-H-2dm1 (dm1) mice have a gain-loss mutation in Dd and Ld (i.e., recombination of Ld and Dd) and BALB/c-H-2dm2 (dm2) mice have a deletion of the Ld gene. Both these dm strains were cyst susceptible (p less than 0.001). These results provide the first direct evidence that class I genes regulate numbers of T. gondii cysts that form. In vivo ablation of CD8+ T cells with mAb YTS 169.4 converted cyst resistant B10.BAR12 mice to cyst susceptible. This result is consistent with a role for MHC restricted CD8+ cytotoxic (or suppressor) T cell regulation of cyst formation. A mutation in Ia in B6.C-H-2bm12 (bm12) mice amplified cyst numbers in susceptible mice, which is consistent with the importance of helper/inducer T cells in the induction of cytotoxic T cells. These findings are relevant to understanding the complex immunologic mechanisms that protect against T. gondii infection, development of protective preparations, and provide a conceptual basis for determining whether similar immunogenetic regulation of susceptibility is also operative in humans.