[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Protection against intracellular pathogens such as Mycobacterium leprae is critically dependent on the function of NK cells at early stages of the immune response and on Th1 cells at later stages. In the present report we evaluated the role of IL-18 and IL-13, two cytokines that can influence NK cell activity, in the generation of M. leprae-derived hsp65-cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) from peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) of leprosy patients. We demonstrated that IL-18 modulates hsp65-induced CTL generation and collaborates with IL-12 for this effect. In paucibacillary (PB) patients and normal controls (N) depletion of NK cells reduces the cytolytic activity. Under these conditions, IL-12 cannot up-regulate this CTL generation, while, in contrast, IL-18 increases the cytotoxic activity both in the presence or absence of NK cells. IL-13 down-regulates the hsp65-induced CTL generation and counteracts the positive effect of IL-18. The negative effect of IL-13 is observed in the early stages of the response, suggesting that this cytokine affects IFNgamma production by NK cells. mRNA coding for IFNgamma is induced by IL-18 and reduced in the presence of IL-13, when PBMC from N or PB patients are stimulated with hsp65. Neutralization of IL-13 in PBMC from multibacillary (MB) leprosy patients induces the production of IFNgamma protein by lymphocytes. A modulatory role on the generation of hsp65 induced CTL is demonstrated for IL-18 and IL-13 and this effect takes place through the production of IFNgamma.