Recent studies in basic immunology have been directed towards the understanding of the mechanism of T cell activation. T cells can be activated to proliferatevia the classical pathway through the antigen receptor (CD3-Ti) orvia the alternate pathway through the CD2 receptor. Since immunologic unresponsiveness in lepromatous leprosy is considered to be due to the inability of T cells to proliferate upon stimulation, we have been interested in the nature of these receptors and the activation pathways in lymphocytes of leprosy patients. In the present investigation we demonstrate: (i) CD2 receptor (E-receptor) is downregulated in bacterial index positive lepromatous leprosy patients. (ii) The alternate pathway of T cell activation is impaired in lepromatous patients as revealed by the inability of their lymphocytes to proliferate in response to a pair of mitogenic anti-CD2 monoclonals. (iii) The addition of recombinant interleukin 2in vitro restores the ability of lymphocytes from lepromatous patients to proliferate in response to anti-CD2 antibodies. (iv) Interestingly, CD2 modulation and the associated functional impairment could be brought about in peripheral blood lymphocytes from normal subjects by prior treatment withMycobacterium leprae in vitro. This approach would be useful in understanding the molecular events leading to the defective T cell functions in leprosy.