Triggering of the CD3 molecule by in vivo injection of the hamster anti-murine CD3 monoclonal antibody 145-2C11 in adult BALB/c mice leads to massive although transient T cell activation. High levels of tumour necrosis factor (TNF), interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma), IL-2, IL-3 and IL-6 are released into the circulation 1 to 8 h after a single 10 micrograms 145-2C11 i.v. injection. This release induces an impressive self-limited physical reaction associating hypothermia, hypomotility (as assessed by actimetry), diarrhoea, piloerection and even death when high doses (a single dose of greater than 100 micrograms/mouse injection) are administered. In vivo injection of 145-2C11 to other selected mouse strains, namely NZW, CBA/J and C3H/HeJ, induced both different cytokine release patterns and sickness. 145-2C11 induced significant release of TNF and IL-2 in all four strains. At variance, IFN-gamma was only detected in BALB/c mice sera which, in terms of physical reaction (hypothermia and hypomotility) were the most affected. Higher and long-lasting circulating IL-3/GM-CSF levels were present in CBA/J sera, correlating with a later recovery. These results underline heterogeneity in the in vivo cell activation pattern among different mouse strains, when triggering T lymphocytes via the CD3/Ti molecule as compared to exclusive targeting of monocyte/macrophages by means of lipopolysaccharide.