Protection against Leishmania major in resistant C57BL/6 mice is mediated by Th1 cells, whereas susceptibility in BALB/c mice is the result of Th2 development. IL-12 release by L. major-infected dendritic cells (DC) is critically involved in differentiation of Th1 cells. Previously, we reported that strain differences in the production of DC-derived factors, e.g., IL-1αβ, are in part responsible for disparate disease outcome. In the present study, we analyzed the release of IL-12 from DC in more detail. Stimulated DC from C57BL/6 and BALB/c mice released comparable amounts of IL-12p40 and p70. In the absence of IL-4, BALB/c DC produced significantly more EL-12p40 than C57BL/6 DC. Detailed analyses by Western blot and ELISA revealed that one-tenth of IL-12p40 detected in DC supernatants was released as the IL-12 antagonist IL-12p40 homodimer (IL-12p80). BALB/c DC released ∼2-fold more IL-12p80 than C57BL/6 DC both in vitro and in vivo. Local injection of IL-12p80 during the first 3 days after infection resulted in increased lesion volumes for several weeks in both L. major-infected BALB/c or C57BL/6 mice, in higher lesional parasite burdens, and decreased Th1-cytokine production. Finally, IL-12p40-transgenic C57BL/6 mice characterized by overexpression of p40 showed increased levels of serum IL-12p80 and enhanced disease susceptibility. Thus, in addition to IL-1αα, strain-dependent differences in the release of other DC-derived factors such as IL-12p80 may influence genetically determined disease outcome.