The possible immunomodulatory role of polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMN) in CD4+ T lymphocyte differentiation in mice was examined by studying the effect of transient depletion of PMN during the early phase after Leishmania major delivery. A single injection of the PMN-depleting NIMP-R14 mAb 6 h before infection with L. major prevented the early burst of IL-4 mRNA transcription otherwise occurring in the draining lymph node of susceptible BALB/c mice. Since this early burst of IL-4 mRNA transcripts had previously been shown to instruct Th2 differentiation in mice from this strain, we examined the effect of PMN depletion on Th subset differentiation at later time points after infection. The transient depletion of PMN in BALB/c mice was sufficient to inhibit Th2 cell development otherwise occurring after L. major infection. Decreased Th2 responses were paralleled with partial resolution of the footpad lesions induced by L. major. Furthermore, draining lymph node-derived CD4+ T cells from PMN-depleted mice remained responsive to IL-12 after L. major infection, unlike those of infected BALB/c mice receiving control Ab. PMN depletion had no effect when the NIMP-R14 mAb was injected 24 h postinfection. The protective effect of PMN depletion was shown to be IL-12 dependent, as concomitant neutralization of IL-12 reversed the protective effect of PMN depletion. These results suggest a role for an early wave of PMN in the development of the Th2 response characteristic of mice susceptible to infection with L. major.