Mycobacterium avium infection was substantially more severe in C57BL/6 (Bcg(s)) than in (C57BL/6 x DBA/2)F1 hybrid (Bcg(r)) mice both in terms of bacterial growth in the spleens and lungs and in host survival. Prior Mycobacterium bovis BCG vaccination resulted in increased resistance as well as enhanced tuberculin hypersensitivity to both PPD-S (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) and PPD-A (M. avium). Mice heavily infected with M. avium were used as T-cell donors in an adoptive transfer system. Substantial resistance was observed for both recipient hosts regardless of the genotype of the donor strain. Transfer of resistance was ablated by treatment of the immune spleen cells with anti-Thy 1.2 monoclonal antibody and complement or by cyclophosphamide treatment. Spleen cells which were monodepleted of L3T4+ or Lyt-2+ T cells did not lose their ability to transfer resistance against a subsequent challenge. However, when these cells were doubly deleted, all resistance was ablated in both the BCG-susceptible and -resistant mice. The recipient host expressed a detectable adoptive immune response although the donor had been unable to reduce the growth of the primary M. avium infection in vivo.