Macrophages are pivotal effector cells of the innate immune system, which is vital for recognizing and eliminating invasive microbial pathogens. When microbial products bind to pathogen-recognition receptors, macrophages become activated and release a broad array of cytokines that orchestrate the host innate and adaptive immune responses. Initially identified as a T-cell cytokine, macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF) is also a macrophage cytokine and an important mediator of inflammation and sepsis. Here we report that MIF is an essential regulator of macrophage responses to endotoxin (lipopolysaccharide) and Gram-negative bacteria. Compared with wild-type cells, MIF-deficient macrophages are hyporesponsive to lipopolysaccharide and Gram-negative bacteria, as shown by a profound reduction in the activity of NF-kappaB and the production of tumour-necrosis factor-alpha. This reduction is due to a downregulation of Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4), the signal-transducing molecule of the lipopolysaccharide receptor complex, and is associated with decreased activity of transcription factor PU.1, which is required for optimal expression of the Tlr4 gene in myeloid cells. These findings identify an important role for MIF in innate immunity and provide a molecular basis for the resistance of MIF-deficient mice to endotoxic shock.