We have previously shown that young adults living in a rural area of northern Malawi showed greater gamma interferon (IFN-γ) responses to purified protein derivatives (PPD) prepared from environmental mycobacteria than to PPD from Mycobacterium tuberculosis. In order to define the mycobacterial species to which individuals living in a rural African population have been exposed and sensitized, we tested T-cell recognition of recombinant and purified antigens from M. tuberculosis (38 kDa, MPT64, and ESAT-6), M. bovis (MPB70), M. bovis BCG (Ag85), and M. leprae (65 kDa, 35 kDa, and 18 kDa) in >600 non-M. bovis BCG-vaccinated young adults in the Karonga District of northern Malawi. IFN-γ was measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) in day 6 supernatants of diluted whole-blood cultures. The recombinant M. leprae 35-kDa and 18-kDa and purified native M. bovis BCG Ag85 antigens induced the highest percentages of responders, though both leprosy and bovine tuberculosis are now rare in this population. The M. tuberculosis antigens ESAT-6 and MPT64 and the M. bovis antigen MPB70 induced the lowest percentages of responders. One of the subjects subsequently developed extrapulmonary tuberculosis; this individual had a 15-mm-diameter reaction to the Mantoux test and responded to M. tuberculosis PPD, Ag85, MPT64, and ESAT-6 but not to any of the leprosy antigens. We conclude that in this rural African population, exposure to M. tuberculosis or M. bovis is much less frequent than exposure to environmental mycobacteria such as M. avium, which have antigens homologous to the M. leprae 35-kDa and 18-kDa antigens. M. tuberculosis ESAT-6 showed the strongest association with the size of the Mantoux skin test induration, suggesting that among the three M. tuberculosis antigens tested it provided the best indication of exposure to, or infection with, M. tuberculosis.