A study of the combined effects of intravenous infusion of the recombinant cytokines beta-interleukin 1 (IL-1) and alpha-tumor necrosis factor (TNF) on energy substrate metabolism in awake, conditioned, adult rabbits was performed. After a 2-h basal or control period, 48-h fasted rabbits were administered TNF and IL-1 as a bolus (5 micrograms/kg) followed by a continuous intravenous infusion (25 ng.kg-1.min-1) for 3 h. Significant increases in plasma lactate (P less than 0.01), glucose (P less than 0.01), and triglycerides (P less than 0.05) occurred during the combined infusion of IL-1 and TNF, whereas neither cytokine alone had no effect. There was a 33% increase in the rate of glucose appearance (P less than 0.05), but glucose clearance was not altered compared with the control period. Glucose oxidation increased during the combined cytokine infusion period and glucose recycling increased by 600% (P less than 0.002). Lactic acidosis and decreased oxygen consumption, as a result of the cytokine infusions, indicated development of anaerobic glycolytic metabolism. A reduction in the activity state of hepatic mitochondrial pyruvate dehydrogenase (65 vs. 82% in control animals, P less than 0.05) was consistent with the observed increase in anaerobic glycolysis. Thus the combined infusion of IL-1 and TNF in rabbits produces metabolic manifestations seen in severe injury and sepsis in human patients and, as such, may account for the profound alterations of energy metabolism seen in these conditions.