Cytokines secreted by bacterial endotoxin-activated immune cells are substances known to stimulate the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis function. The present study was designed to better understand the effect of different mediators of inflammation, such as cytokines and histamine, on the acute HPA axis response induced by administration of a single dose of bacterial lipopolysaccharide (LPS) in adult, male, BALB/c mice. Two different experimental designs were set up. In the first design, mice (n = 8-11 per group) were injected i.p. with LPS (90 microg/kg body weight) and killed by decapitation 2 or 6 h after treatment. Additional groups of mice were pretreated i.p. 12 h before LPS treatment with: (a) 3-4 mg IgG/kg body weight of either an anti-tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF)-alpha, anti-interleukin (IL)-1beta- or IL-6 serum; (b) IL-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1ra) (120 microg/kg body weight) immediately before LPS and also 3 h later (when animals were killed 6 h after LPS injection), or (c) 182 microg/kg body weight of clemastine, an antagonist of H(1) histaminergic receptors, 2 h before LPS treatment; animals were killed in a similar fashion to that described for treatment with LPS alone. In the second experimental design, mice were pretreated (i.p., 10 mg/kg body weight, 30 min before administration of a similar dose of LPS) with different blockers of histaminergic pathway function such as: (a) mepyramine, another anti-H(1), (b) cimetidine, an H(2) receptor blocker, and (c) Ralpha-methylhistamine dihydrochloride, an H(3) presynaptic receptor agonist which inhibits histamine synthesis and output. These animals were then killed by decapitation 40 min after endotoxin treatment. After decapitation, trunk blood was collected for further determination of plasma levels of both ACTH and corticosterone (B) by specific assays. The results indicate that plasma levels of both ACTH and B were several-fold increased over baseline, 2 and 6 h after LPS administration. Two hours, the effect of LPS on ACTH output was not modified by pretreatment with anti-IL-1beta IgG, anti-IL-6 IgG, anti-TNF-alpha IgG nor with IL-1ra, although IL-1ra treatment was able to fully block the IL-1beta (35 microg/kg body weight)-stimulated HPA axis function, 1 and 2 h after cytokine administration. Six hours after LPS administration, anti-IL-1beta and anti-TNF-alpha IgGs were both able to significantly reduce HPA axis response to the endotoxins, whereas anti-IL6 IgG had no effect. Anti-IL-1beta IgG reduced only B secretion, whereas anti-TNF-alpha IgG decreased both ACTH and B secretion. The blockade of histaminergic pathway functions did not impede the LPS-induced ACTH and B release regardless of the product employed. The present results indicate that TNF-alpha, and to a lesser extent IL-1beta, are the most relevant cytokines involved in HPA axis response to endotoxin administration. Our data also suggest that, in mice, HPA axis activation after infection appeared to be independent of stimulation of the histaminergic pathway.