A characteristic feature of malaria infection is the occurrence of periodic bouts of fever. Experimental and clinical studies have strongly implicated inflammatory cytokines, like tumour necrosis factor (TNF), in the induction of these intermittent fevers [Clark et al., Infect Immunol 32:1058-1066, 1981; Clark et al., Am J Pathol 129:192-199, 1987; Karunaweera et al., Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 89:3200-3203, 1992], but the malaria-specific metabolite(s) which induce the production of such endogenous pyrogens have not yet been fully characterized. It is well known that during the course of malaria infection, a unique schizont component, alternatively referred to as "malaria pigment" or hemozoin, is released along with merozoites as the host erythrocyte bursts [Urquhart, Clin Infect Dis 19:117-131, 1994]. We have recently determined that the core structure of hemozoin comprises a novel insoluble polymer of heme units linked by iron-carboxylate bonds [Slater et al., Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 88:325-329, 1991; Slater et al., Nature 355:167-169, 1992]. We now report that purified native, as well as chemically synthesized, hemozoin crystals potently induce the release of several pyrogenic cytokines, including TNF, MIP-1 alpha, and MIP-1 beta, from murine macrophages and human peripheral blood monocytes in vitro. Also, intravenous administration of chemically synthesized preparations of hemozoin to anaesthetized rats results in a marked drop in body temperature. A similar drop in body temperature is observed following the intravenous injection of other well-characterized pyrogenic cytokines (e.g., TNF) which are known to induce a fever response in awake animals, and is thought to reflect the inability of rats to appropriately regulate their body temperature while anaesthetized. As a consequence of its ability to induce pyrogenic cytokines in vitro, and thermal dysregulation in vivo, we propose that this unique parasite metabolite is an important pyrogen released by malaria parasites at schizogomy, which acts by eliciting the production of a group of potent endogenous pyrogens, which include MIP-1 alpha and MIP-1 beta, as well as TNF, in macrophages.