Antibiotic therapy is only moderately efficacious for bovine Staphylococcus aureus mastitis. We have used recombinant bovine cytokines to activate the natural host defenses, to prevent and treat bovine mastitis. Uninfected mammary glands infused with GM-CSF or IL-2 increased the percentage of phagocytic cells in the milk by 2-3 fold. IL-1 increased the number of polymorphonuclear cells in the milk, enhanced their inducible oxygen radical formation, and had no effect on phagocytosis. Treatment with IL-2 increased the number of polymorphonuclear cells in the milk, enhanced their inducible oxygen radical formation, and enhanced their phagocytosis. GM-CSF had no effect on the number polymorphonuclear cells in the milk but enhanced their inducible oxygen radical formation, and enhanced their phagocytosis. All cytokines were effective in preventing S. aureus infections (20-100%). 52% of all chronically infected mammary gland quarters treated with three doses of IL-2 responded to therapy and 32% of the treated quarters remained cured. 75% of all mammary glands treated with three doses of IL-1 beta responded to therapy by clearing the infection and 22% of the treated glands remained cured. These studies demonstrate that recombinant bovine cytokines can be used effectively to prevent infections as well as treat established chronic infection.