In insulin dependent diabetes mellitis (IDDM) beta cell destruction is associated with infiltration of the pancreatic islets by T lymphocytes and macrophages. Cytokine products from the infiltrating immunocytes not only have powerful immunoregulatory actions but also are capable of impairing islet cell functions and have thus been postulated to assume a central role in mediating anti-beta cell immunity and beta cell destruction. In an effort to explore further the role of cytokines in the pathogenesis of IDDM, we examined clinical, metabolic and pathological features of NOD/Wehi mice injected intraperitoneally with multiple doses of IFN-gamma and/or TNF-alpha. Blood glucose profiles were not significantly altered by injection of cytokines alone or in combination. Except for a hypoglycaemic rebound in mice injected with TNF-alpha, arginine stimulation tests revealed no disturbances in islet secretory function in cytokine injected mice. Compared with vehicle and cytokines alone, injection of IFN-gamma + TNF-alpha was associated with a variety of clinical and pathological changes including abdominal distention, piloerection, ascites, oedema, thymic atrophy, splenic enlargement and pancreatic distention. Histological examination of the pancreas in these mice revealed moderate to severe pancreatitis which included focal haemorrhagic necrosis, oedema and polymorphonuclear and mononuclear cell infiltration. The islets in these mice appeared normal morphologically and when stained for insulin. The injection of IFN-gamma + TNF-alpha, and to a lesser extent TNF-alpha alone, was associated with a significant reduction in the severity of insulitis. Examination of pancreatic MHC-class I and class II molecule expression revealed in mice given IFN-gamma + TNF-alpha, as compared with controls, significant and uniform induction of both these molecules on ductal and acinar cells; low level MHC-class II expression was also detectable on beta cells in these mice. MHC-class I molecules which were expressed at high levels by beta cells in control mice did not appear to change following administration of the cytokines alone or in combination. We conclude that despite their immunostimulatory actions in vitro and in other models in vivo, systemic administration of the cytokines IFN-gamma and/or TNF-alpha to NOD/Wehi mice does not activate or enhance, and may actually suppress, anti-beta cell immunity in this model.