Background: Nerve damage in leprosy often causes disabilities and deformities. Prednisolone is used to treat nerve function impairment (NFI). However, optimal dose and duration of prednisolone treatment has not been established yet. Besides treating existing NFI it would be desirable to prevent NFI. Studies show that before NFI is clinically detectable, nerves often show subclinical damage. Within the 'Treatment of Early Neuropathy in LEProsy' (TENLEP) study two double blind randomized controlled trials (RCT) will be carried out: a trial to establish whether prednisolone treatment of 32 weeks duration is more effective than 20 weeks in restoring nerve function in leprosy patients with clinical NFI (Clinical trial) and a trial to determine whether prednisolone treatment of early sub-clinical NFI can prevent clinical NFI (Subclinical trial).Methods: Two RCTs with a follow up of 18 months will be conducted in six centers in Asia. In the Clinical trial leprosy patients with recent (< 6 months) clinical NFI, as determined by Monofilament Test and Voluntary Muscle Test, are included. The primary outcomes are the proportion of patients with restored or improved nerve function. In the Subclinical trial leprosy patients with subclinical neuropathy, as determined by Nerve Conduction Studies (NCS) and/or Warm Detection Threshold (WDT), and without any clinical signs of NFI are randomly allocated to a placebo group or treatment group receiving 20 weeks prednisolone. The primary outcome is the proportion of patients developing clinical NFI. Reliability and normative studies are carried out before the start of the trial.Discussion: This study is the first RCT testing a prednisolone regimen with a duration longer than 24 weeks. Also it is the first RCT assessing the effect of prednisolone in the prevention of clinical NFI in patients with established subclinical neuropathy. The TENLEP study will add to the current understanding of neuropathy due to leprosy and provide insight in the effectiveness of prednisolone on the prevention and recovery of NFI in leprosy patients. In this paper we present the research protocols for both Clinical and Subclinical trials and discuss the possible findings and implications.Trial registration: Netherlands Trial Register: NTR2300. Clinical Trial Registry India: CTRI/2011/09/002022. © 2012 Wagenaar et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.