In the defense against Mycobacterium leprae, macrophages play an essential part in the mechanism of bacterial lysis but require the presence of cytokines such as interleukin 2 and gamma interferon from lymphocytes in order to effectively kill the organisms in any number. While there have been many studies of the lymphocytes in lesions of leprosy, less attention has been given to the immunohistochemical characterization of the macrophage populations. In this study, the cutaneous lesions of 69 patients with leprosy (42 lepromatous, 5 mid-borderline, and 22 tuberculoid) were evaluated by immunohistochemistry for the expression of S100 protein, CD1a, CD68, muramidase, HLA-DR, and Factor 13a. The macrophages from lesions of polar, subpolar, and borderline lepromatous leprosy patients expressed S100 protein intensely and constantly. In contrast, the lesions of polar and subpolar tuberculoid leprosy had very few cells that were immunoreactive for S100 protein ('S100+') in the granulomas in the dermis. The macrophages in all lesions were reactive for CD68 and muramidase. In paraffin sections, macrophages of lepromatous lesions failed to stain for HLA-DR, whereas in tuberculoid lesions, they were strongly positive for HLA-DR. Three patients with histoid leprosy (relapse lesions) had lesions that were strongly positive for Factor 13a and were negative for S100 protein ('S100−'). Given the possible chemotactic and migration inhibition effects of the calcium-binding proteins of the S100 family, these data suggest a possibly important role for S100 protein in the accumulation of macrophages in lepromatous leprosy, and also reveal infection of Factor 13a + dermal dendritic cells in histoid leprosy.