Bioactive interleukin (IL)-12 is a 70 000-molecular weight (MW) heterodimeric cytokine comprising p40 and p35 chains. However, p40 can also form homodimers that antagonize bioactive IL-12 or heterodimerize with p19 to form IL-23, which exhibits overlapping yet distinct functions to that of IL-12. We now define distinct signalling mechanisms that regulate lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-mediated induction of IL-12 p40 and p35 in macrophages and which may therefore provide therapeutic targets for precise and specific fine-tuning of cytokine responses. Thus, whilst LPS-induced p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPkinase) activation is required for the induction of both p40 and p35 subunits, Erk MAPkinase signalling mediates negative feedback regulation of p40, but not p35, production. Such Erk MAPkinase activation is downstream of calcium influx and targets LPS-induced IL-12 p40 transcription by suppressing the synthesis of the transcription factor, interferon regulatory factor-1 (IRF-1). In contrast, negative regulation of the p35 subunit of IL-12 occurs via a calcium-dependent, but Erk-independent, mechanism, which is likely to involve nuclear factor (NF)-kappa B signalling. Finally, the importance of both Erk and p38 MAPkinases in differentially regulating IL-12 p40 and p35 production is underscored by each being targeted by ES-62, a product secreted by parasitic filarial nematodes to polarize the immune system towards an anti-inflammatory phenotype conducive to their survival.