Epidermal cell-derived thymocyte activating factor (ETAF), a cytokine produced by keratinocytes, has previously been shown to be biochemically and functionally very similar, if not identical, to interleukin 1 (IL-1). Both ETAF and IL-1 have been demonstrated to be chemotactic for neutrophils and mononuclear cells in vitro. In order to demonstrate that this activity has physiological relevance we have used a simple in vivo model. The present study demonstrates that injection of high-titer ETAF or purified recombinant murine IL-1 into the mouse footpad results in an influx of neutrophils into the site with peak accumulation at 4 h. Footpad swelling also occurs with a time course roughly paralleling that of the neutrophil accumulation. Injection of control proteins failed to reproduce this phenomenon. Margination of neutrophils within blood vessels was seen within 1 h of injection of ETAF or IL-1, followed by entry into the stroma by 4 h. This suggests that chemotactic activity and not merely increased adherence or inhibition of migration is occurring. 5-10 d of daily, subcutaneous injection of ETAF on the mouse flank resulted in an infiltrate of neutrophils, and to a lesser degree, mononuclear cells in association with epidermal hyperplasia, subcutaneous fibrosis, and focal muscle necrosis in the panniculus carnosus. These findings were not seen in control sites injected with media. These findings provide direct in vivo experimental evidence suggesting a physiologic role for ETAF/IL-1 in local inflammation.