The injection of complete Freund's adjuvant into diabetic nonobese diabetic (NOD) mice at the time of syngeneic islet transplantation prevents monocytic/lymphocytic cell infiltration into the islet graft, Beta-cell destruction, and autoimmune diabetes recurrence. We have used semiquantitative reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction analysis to examine and compare cytokine mRNA expression profiles in islet grafts from complete Freund's adjuvant-injected and control NOD mice. Interleukin 10 mRNA expression was significantly increased whereas interleukin 2 and interferon gamma mRNA levels were significantly decreased in islet grafts from complete Freund's adjuvant-injected mice compared to control mice. Levels of mRNA for interleukin 1 beta, interleukin 4, and tumour necrosis factor alpha were not significantly different in islet grafts from complete Freund's adjuvant-injected and control mice. These findings suggest that a Th1 subset of lymphocytes and their cytokine products, interleukin 2 and interferon gamma, may be involved in the rejection of syngeneic islet grafts and diabetes recurrence in NOD mice, and that the protective effect of complete Freund's adjuvant may result from the induction of interleukin 10 production and consequent down-regulation of Th1 cells and cytokines in the islet graft.