The immunosuppressive activity of interleukin-10 (IL-10) makes this cytokine a potentially important clinical tool to reduce inflammatory responses in various diseases. Its efficacy as a therapeutic modality is dependent on the responsiveness of immune cells. We report that macrophages from mice chronically infected with the LP-BM5 retrovirus had a reduced capacity to respond to IL-10 in vitro. The ability of IL-10 to inhibit lipopolysaccharide-induced production of tumor necrosis factor (TNF) alpha and IL-6 was significantly reduced in both alveolar and peritoneal macrophages from infected versus uninfected mice. IL-10 hyporesponsiveness was not related to direct infection by the retrovirus, because bone marrow-derived macrophages infected in vitro with LP-BM5 were as responsive to IL-10 as were uninfected bone marrow-derived macrophages. TNF-alpha appeared to contribute to development of IL-10 hyporesponsiveness, because exposure of normal macrophages to TNF-alpha but not interferon-gamma reduced macrophage responsiveness to IL-10. Reverse transcriptase-PCR and flow cytometry demonstrated normal expression of the alpha and beta chains of the IL-10 receptor in macrophages from infected mice, suggesting that IL-10 hyporesponsiveness is not related to a change in receptor expression. The potential role of reduced IL-10 responsiveness in the chronicity of inflammation in this and other diseases is discussed.