Self-curing cutaneous leishmaniasis depends on T cell-mediated immune activation of infected macrophages. Failure of immune control in inbred mouse models of metastasizing mucocutaneous and visceralizing forms of the disease involves, respectively, insusceptibility of the parasite and the generation of T cells that suppress a potentially curative response. Prophylactic immunization in man has so far been restricted to cutaneous leishmaniasis and based on inducing infection under controlled conditions with virulent Leishmania tropica major promastigotes. The feasibility of immunization against visceral leishmaniasis merits reconsideration. BALB/c mice are genetically vulnerable to L. tropica major, which produces a fatal visceralizing type of disease involving specific suppression of cell-mediated immunity. Potent and lasting protection can be induced by repeated intravenous immunization with irradiated promastigotes. The efficacy of this 'vaccine' is relatively heat-stable (1 h at 56 <latex>$^\circ$</latex>C). Immunity is not attributable to antibody but to the generation of Lyt-1<latex>$^+$</latex>2<latex>$^-$</latex> T cells which, although possessing helper and macrophage-activating functions, do not express classical delayed-type hypersensitivity. The immunological features of this system and its relevance to the possibility of protection against human Leishmania donovani infection are considered.