Interleukin-1 (IL-1), a cytokine produced by bone marrow cells and bone cells, has been implicated in the pathogenesis of postmenopausal osteoporosis because of its potent stimulatory effects on bone resorption in vitro and in vivo. To investigate whether IL-1 plays a direct causal role in post ovariectomy bone loss, 6-mo-old ovariectomized rats were treated with subcutaneous infusions of IL-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1ra), a specific competitor of IL-1, for 4 wk, beginning either at the time of surgery or 4 wk after ovariectomy. The bone density of the distal femur was measured non invasively by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. Bone turnover was assessed by bone histomorphometry and by measuring serum osteocalcin, a marker of bone formation, and the urinary excretion of pyridinoline cross-links, a marker of bone resorption. Ovariectomy caused a rapid increase in bone turnover and a marked decrease in bone density which were blocked by treatment with 17 beta estradiol. Ovariectomy also increased the production of IL-1 from cultured bone marrow cells. Ovariectomy induced-bone loss was significantly decreased by IL-1ra treatment started at the time of ovariectomy and completely blocked by IL-1ra treatment begun 4 wk after ovariectomy. In both studies IL-1ra also decreased bone resorption in a manner similar to estrogen, while it had no effect on bone formation. In contrast, treatment with IL-1ra had no effect on the bone density and the bone turnover of sham-operated rats, indicating that IL-1ra specifically blocked estrogen-dependent bone loss. In conclusion, these data indicate that IL-1, or mediators induced by IL-1, play an important causal role in the mechanism by which ovariectomy induces bone loss in rats, especially following the immediate post ovariectomy period.