The role of interleukin 1 (IL-1) as an inflammatory mediator during mastitis and the therapeutic effect of recombinant human IL-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1ra) for bovine mastitis was studied. Cows were intramammarily infused with lipopolysaccharide (25 micrograms) in 1 mammary gland. Half the cows also received infusions of 5 mg of IL-1ra into the same mammary gland just prior to endotoxin infusion and 4, 8, and 12 hours later. After endotoxin infusion, tumor necrosis factor and high IL-1 bioactivity were detected in whey from infused glands. Vascular permeability changes and neutrophil accumulation in milk paralleled the appearance of cytokines. A systemic reaction, characterized by pyrexia and an increase in blood cortisol concentration, also were observed. Milk yield was inhibited and milk composition was altered in infused and noninfused glands. The increase in IL-1 bioactivity in milk after endotoxin infusion was almost completely prevented in glands receiving IL-1ra. However, IL-1ra had no effect on local inflammation, systemic reaction, or impairment in productive performance. These results indicate that IL-1 does not mediate its effect within the milk compartment, and suggest either that IL-1 is not critical to the mastitic response or that intramammary infusion of IL-1ra does not place the antagonist where IL-1 interacts with its receptor.