The ability of blood monocyte/macrophages from normal donors, tuberculoid leprosy (BT/TT) and lepromatous leprosy (BL/LL) patients to exert enhanced microbicidal activity was assayed after stimulating with 0.8 microM tuftsin, as a function of the duration of cultures in vitro. Normal and BT/TT macrophage cultures showed a statistically significant increase in microbicidal activity against Staphylococcus aureus at all ages of culture (6 h to 14 days), though the overall magnitude of the enhancement shows a decrease with increasing culture age in the same populations. However, 14-day old BL/LL macrophage cultures were unable to undergo tuftsin-mediated stimulation of microbicidal activity against S. aureus and even, fresh 6 h-old cultures exhibited a tuftsin-stimulated response profile similar to 14-day old normal and BT/TT cultures. Also, 7 and 14-day cultures of normal, BT/TT and BL/LL macrophages were unable to inhibit/kill intracellular Mycobacterium leprae after a single stimulation with 0.8 microM tuftsin. However, serial, daily stimulation with 0.8 microM tuftsin resulted in 77-140% inhibition of 3H-thymidine uptake by the 12th day of cultures in vitro in the three groups. These results suggest that BL/LL macrophages exhibit a premature inability to undergo tuftsin stimulated microbicidal activity, which may possibly be reversed by serial dosage of tuftsin.