Leishmania (Viannia) shawl was recently characterized and few studies concerning modifications in cellular and humoral immune responses in experimental leishmaniasis have been conducted. In this work, immunopathological changes induced by L. shawl in chronically infected BALB/c mice were investigated. Infected BALB/c mice developed increased lesion size associated with strong inflammatory infiltrate diffusely distributed in the dermis, with highly infected macrophages. The humoral immune response was predominantly directed toward the IgG1 isotype. The functional activity of CD4(+) and CD8(+) T cells showed significantly increased TNF-alpha mRNA levels associated with reduced IFN-gamma expression by CD4(+) T cells and the double negative (dn) CD4CD8 cell subset. High IL-4 levels expressed by CD8(+) T cells and dnCD4CD8 and TGF-beta by CD4(+) and CD8(+) T cells were detected, while IL-10 was highly expressed by all three cell subpopulations. Taken together, these results show an evident imbalance between TNF-alpha and IFN-gamma that is unfavorable to amastigote replication control. Furthermore, L. shawi seems to regulate different cell populations to express deactivating cytokines to avoid its own destruction. This study indicates BALB/c mice as a potentially good experimental model for further studies on American cutaneous leishmaniosis caused by L. shawi. (C) 2010 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.