The potential role of anti-inflammatory cytokines in the modulation of the atherosclerotic process remains unknown. Interleukin (IL)-10 has potent deactivating properties in macrophages and T cells and modulates many cellular processes that may interfere with the development and stability of the atherosclerotic plaque. IL-10 is expressed in human atherosclerosis and is associated with decreased signs of inflammation. In the present study, we show that IL-10-deficient C57BL/6J mice fed an atherogenic diet and raised under specific pathogen-free conditions exhibit a significant 3-fold increase in lipid accumulation compared with wild-type mice. Interestingly, the susceptibility of IL-10-deficient mice to atherosclerosis was exceedingly high (30-fold increase) when the mice were housed under conventional conditions. Atherosclerotic lesions of IL-10-deficient mice showed increased T-cell infiltration, abundant interferon-gamma expression, and decreased collagen content. In vivo, transfer of murine IL-10 achieved 60% reduction in lesion size. These results underscore the critical roles of IL-10 in both atherosclerotic lesion formation and stability. Moreover, IL-10 appears to be crucial as a protective factor against the effect of environmental pathogens on atherosclerosis.