Leishmaniasis provides a biologically relevant model to analyze the heterogeneity of CD4+ T cells and may lead to answering the major question of the mechanism for the preferential induction of T helper type 1 (Th1) and Th2 cells. Using synthetic peptides corresponding to the tandemly repeating regions of Leishmania proteins, we have identified an epitope that can preferentially induce the disease-exacerbating Th2 cells in susceptible BALB/c mice. Lymph node cells from BALB/c mice immunized subcutaneously with the octamer (p183) of the repeating 10-mer peptide EAEEAARLQA proliferated strongly against the peptide as well as the soluble antigen extract (SolAg) of Leishmania major. The proliferative T cells are CD4+, major histocompatibility complex class II restricted, and secrete interleukin 4 (IL-4) but little or no IL-2 and interferon gamma when stimulated with the peptide in vitro. T cells from BALB/c mice with progressive disease, but not from BALB/c mice cured of the infection, recognized this epitope. BALB/c mice injected subcutaneously with p183 developed significantly exacerbated disease when subsequently challenged with L. major. Furthermore, subcutaneous injection with p183 prevented the subsequent induction of resistance against L. major by intravenous immunization with soluble antigen. The T cell response to p183 is H-2d restricted. Immunization of the genetically resistant B10.D2 mice with p183 also produced strong T cell responses and exacerbated disease when challenged with L. major.