This study was performed to investigate the in vivo effects of staphylococcal alpha-toxin on phagocytosis and the secretion of proinflammatory cytokines at local sites of intraperitoneal toxin-challenged mice. A dosage of 45 hemolytic units (HU) of alpha-toxin induced a marked increase in the peritoneal neutrophil count. The toxin caused a 52% decrease in phagocytosis by peritoneal macrophages, compared with that of control mice receiving Staphylococcus aureus particles alone. However, no effect on phagocytosis in neutrophils was observed. A dosage of 45 HU toxin and the synergistic activity of S. aureus particles strongly induced interleukin (IL) 6 secretion but only mildly induced IL-1alpha secretion. The toxin did not induce the secretion of tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha). Interestingly, S. aureus culture supernatant induced the secretion of TNF-alpha in cultured macrophages. These results suggest that alpha-toxin damages the primary host defense system by inducing the oversecretion of IL-1alpha and IL-6, but not TNF-alpha, via a mechanism that requires the synergistic action of bacterial components.