The ability of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from patients with active tuberculosis to display cytotoxic responses against autologous Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb)-pulsed macrophages was evaluated. Non-MHC restricted cell-dependent lytic activity was observed in ex vivo effector cells from tuberculosis patients and was mediated mainly by CD3+γδ TCR+ T (γδ T) cells bearing CD56 and/or CD16 molecules. MHC-restricted and non-MHC restricted cytotoxic T cells (CTL) were differentially expanded upon stimulation with Mtb in tuberculosis patients and normal controls (N). Class-I restricted CD8+ CTL and class-II restricted CD4+ CTL were generated in PPD+N and to a lesser extent in PPD–N. Mtb-stimulated effector cells from tuberculosis patients became progressively non-MHC restricted CD4–CD8–γδ T cells, while lytic activity of CD4+ and CD8+CTL decreased gradually as the disease became more severe. On the other hand, target cells were lysed by ex vivo cells from tuberculosis patients through the Fas-FasL and perforin pathways. Mtb-induced CD4+ CTL from tuberculosis patients and N controls preferentially employed the Fas-FasL mechanism. Mtb-induced CD8+ CTL effector cells from patients used the perforin-based mechanism while cells from N controls also used the Fas-FasL pathway. While Mtb-induced γδ CTL from patients and PPD–N employed the latter mechanism cells from PPD+N individuals also used the perforin pathway. It can be concluded that shifts in the CTL response and the cytolytic mechanisms take place as the pulmonary involvement becomes more severe.