Endotoxin (lipopolysaccharide [LPS]) is the major pathogenic factor of gram-negative septic shock, and endotoxin-induced death is associated with the host overproduction of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha). In the search for new antiendotoxin molecules, we studied the endotoxin-neutralizing capacity of a human lactoferrin-derived 33-mer synthetic peptide (GRRRRSVQWCAVSQPEATKCFQWQRNMRKVRGP; designated LF-33) representing the minimal sequence for lactoferrin binding to glycosaminoglycans. LF-33 inhibited the coagulation of the Limulus amebocyte lysate and the secretion of TNF-alpha by RAW 264.7 cells induced by lipid A and four different endotoxins with a potency comparable to that of polymyxin B. The first six residues at the N terminus of LF-33 were critical for its antiendotoxin activity. The endotoxin-neutralizing capacity of LF-33 and polymyxin B was attenuated by human serum. Coinjection of Escherichia coli LPS (125 ng) with LF-33 (2.5 microg) dramatically reduced the lethality of LPS in the galactosamine-sensitized mouse model. Significant protection of the mice against the lethal LPS challenge was also observed when LF-33 (100 microg) was given intravenously after intraperitoneal injection of LPS. Protection was correlated with a reduction in TNF-alpha levels in the mouse serum. These results demonstrate the endotoxin-neutralizing capability of LF-33 in vitro and in vivo and its potential use for the treatment of endotoxin-induced septic shock.