The alpha 7 nicotinic receptor is reportedly a key element in the cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway. Because a prototypical ligand for this receptor is nicotine, we studied the in vivo human response to bacterial endotoxin or lipopolysaccharide (LPS) in the context of nicotine or placebo pretreatment. Twelve adult male normal subjects were studied prospectively. Six received overnight transcutaneous nicotine administration by application of a standard patch (7 mg). Six hours later, all subjects were given an intravenous dose of endotoxin (2 ng/kg) and were evaluated for an additional 24 h for circulating levels of inflammatory biomarkers, vital signs and symptoms. The nicotine subjects had elevated blood levels of the nicotine metabolite, continine, prior to and throughout the 24-h post-endotoxin exposure phase. Subjects receiving nicotine exhibited a significantly lower temperature response as well as attenuated cardiovascular responses for 2.5-6 h after LPS exposure. In addition, increased circulating interkeukin (IL)-10 and cortisol levels were also noted in nicotine subjects. These data indicate an alteration in LPS-induced systemic inflammatory responses in normal subjects exposed to transcutaneous nicotine. In this model of abbreviated inflammation, nicotine exposure attenuates the febrile response to LPS and promotes a more prominent anti-inflammatory phenotype.