Interleukin (IL) 10 is a recently discovered cytokine, originally isolated from T-helper 2 (Th2) cells, which inhibits cytokine production of T-helper 1 (Th1) cells. Because Th1 cells appear to be of importance during the contact hypersensitivity reaction (CHS) we hypothesized that IL-10 might modulate the outcome of CHS in vivo. Intraperitoneal injection of murine recombinant IL-10 (1000 ng) into naive mice 24, 72, or 120 h before sensitization by epicutaneous application of 2,4-dinitrofluorobenzene (DNFB) did not affect ear swelling when ears were challenged 5 d later. However, intraperitoneal injection of IL-10 into already sensitized mice 24 h before challenge resulted in a significant suppression of the ear swelling response, suggesting that under the conditions employed IL-10 is able to block the effector phase, but not the induction phase of CHS in vivo. The suppression could be reversed by the concurrent injection of an IL-10 antibody. Moreover, heat inactivation of native IL-10 resulted in loss of the inhibitory capacity. When mice were sensitized by subcutaneous injection of trinitrophenyl-coupled spleen cells (DTH) instead of epicutaneous application of the hapten (CHS), intraperitoneally-injected IL-10 suppressed the effector phase, but also the induction phase of DTH. IL-10 did not inhibit the toxic ear-swelling response induced by topical application of two irritants tested (croton oil or benzalkonium chloride). The capacity of IL-10 to suppress the effector phase of CHS and DTH supports an important role for this cytokine in the downregulation of type IV immune reactions in vivo. The finding that IL-10 suppresses the induction of DTH, but not of CHS, further suggests that CHS and DTH are related but distinct immune reactions.