The effect of the iron chelator deferoxamine (DFO) on resistance to infection with Listeria monocytogenes in mice with a condition analogous to human beta-thalassemia was studied. Intraperitoneal injection of 10 mg DFO resulted in significantly increased mortality when given one, three and six days before infection with L. monocytogenes (for all three time points, p less than 0.02). There were no significant differences in hematocrit, plasma iron, or splenic iron content between the two groups of mice during these time periods. In addition, splenic counts of L. monocytogenes were not significantly higher in DFO-treated compared to saline-treated mice three days after infection. Moreover, background C57Bl/6J mice were not more susceptible to Listeria infection after receiving DFO than were saline-treated controls. In conclusion, acute administration of DFO increases the susceptibility of beta-thalassemic mice to L. monocytogenes. The effect is not seen in background mice and suggests that DFO increases susceptibility to Listeria infection only in animals with iron overload.