Young calves possess a strong innate immunity against Babesia bovis infection that lasts for approximately 6 months after birth and is abrogated with the removal of the spleen. This immunity is characterized as cellular involving a soluble mediator. Nitric oxide has been implicated by virtue of its babesiacidal affects in vitro, but questioned to be as effective in vivo, due to its ability to downregulate type-1 immunity. Spleen cells were obtained from 4-month-old calves and adult steers and processed for monitoring cytokine and inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) mRNA expression during the response to initial B. bovis infection. The data provided evidence of a transient role for nitric oxide in innate immunity, characterized by brief iNOS induction in the spleen of calves that was not detectable in the spleens of adults. The iNOS message followed the early induction of interleukin (IL)-12 and interferon (IFN)-gamma message in calves. The induction of IL-12 and IFN-gamma message in adults was delayed until IL-10 message was induced. Transformation growth factor-beta mRNA expression levels were greater in spleen cells from adults early in infection and then declined, whereas expression levels increased in spleen cells from calves later in the infection process. Together, the data support the concept of 'first come, first serve' cytokine influence over cellular activities, the importance of a type-1 response in the control of an initial infection and the need for tight regulation in order to prevent pathology associated with over production of nitric oxide and inflammatory cytokines.