We investigated the mechanisms by which treatment with anti-IL-12 Ab prevents cure of infection with Leishmania major in resistant C57BL/6 mice. Consistent with delayed production of IL-12, anti-IL-12 Abs could be administered as late as 2 wk after infection to exacerbate disease. Starting at 2 wk of infection, the cultured lymph node cells from mice treated with either polyclonal or monoclonal anti-IL-12 Abs persistently generated 3- to 10-fold more IL-4 and IL-10 in response to L. major Ag compared with cells from mice receiving preimmune goat IgG. Reciprocal decreases in Ag-specific IFN-gamma production were observed in mice receiving anti-IL-12 Abs. A similar reversal of IFN-gamma and IL-4 production accompanied progressive disease induced by pretreatment with a single dose of anti-IFN-gamma mAb. Although IFN-gamma production was suppressed for up to 4 wk in mice treated with monoclonal anti-IL-12 or anti-IFN-gamma, coadministration of neutralizing anti-IL-4 IgG reversed progressive illness. These findings demonstrate that IL-12 produced in vivo is necessary for both the emergence of IFN-gamma producing cells and the down-regulation of Th2 cell responses during murine leishmaniasis. Furthermore, the uninhibited production of IL-4 was required to sustain progressive infection initiated by the decreased IFN-gamma synthesis observed in anti-IL-12 and anti-IFN-gamma-treated mice.