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Lymph node involvement by Leishmania during human cutaneous leishmaniasis was reported more than 90 years ago, but the importance of certain Leishmania strains in such dissemination remains largely speculative. We have examined 36 consecutively untreated cutaneous leishmaniasis patients early in their disease; 66.7% had enlarged lymph nodes. Patients with enlarged lymph nodes had higher anti-Leishmania immune responses than patients without such involvement, both at the IgG antibody level (mean ± SD optical density at 492 nm = 0.163 ± 0.089 versus 0.098 ± 0.086; P = 0.009) and in skin test responses (12.4 ± 1O.2 mm versus 5.7 ± 7.3; P = 0.03). Thirteen (62%) of 21 lymph node cultures and 16 (53%) of 30 cultures from cutaneous sites were positive for Leishmania. Eleven of 13 isolates from lymph nodes were characterized by a panel of monoclonal antibodies, and all were typed as L. braziliensis. Our findings stress the importance of L. braziliensis as an agent involved in the early invasion of the lymphatic system.