Chlamydia trachomatis infects epithelial cells at the mucosal surface. While in vitro and animal studies have shown changes in mucosal TH] -associated cytokines in the presence of C. trachomatis infection and with its progression to the upper genital tract or clearance, in vivo cytokine responses to chlamydial infection in humans are not well understood. Using a quantitative enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), we examined the endocervical production of two TH1-associated cytokines, i.e. interleukin (IL)-2 and IL-12, in relation to C. trachomatis infection in adolescents. At a randomly selected visit for 396 females, median endocervical IL-2 levels were significantly lower (190 versus 283 pg/ml, P = 0·02) and median IL-12 levels significantly higher (307 versus 132 pg/ml, P〈 0·001) in subjects testing positive versus negative for C. trachomatis. These divergent TH1 -associated cytokine responses were: (1) confirmed in paired analyses of 96 individuals before and after infection within 6-month intervals, (2) reversible in 97 patients who cleared infection during consecutive visits, (3) not attributable to sociodemographic factors or other genital infections and (4) independent of common genetic variants at the IL2 and IL12B loci associated previously with differential gene expression. From these findings we infer that increased IL-12 and decreased IL-2, observed commonly during mucosal inflammation, are important features of mucosal immune defence against C. trachomatis infection. © 2005 British Society for Immunology.