Macrophages (M phi) from pre-diseased autoimmune-prone MRL mice (both MRL/+ and MRL/lpr) dramatically underproduce the cytokine interleukin-1 (IL-1) in comparison to M phi from a number of normal strains. In this study we show that IL-1 dysregulation by MRL M phi is fully expressed at birth, and that this defect does not change with time or the development of disease. We also constructed adult irradiation chimeras (consisting of A/J-->MRL and MRL-->A/J mice), and show that M phi isolated from these chimeras display a pattern of IL-1 production indistinguishable from that of the donor strain controls. Moreover, when we constructed a mixed chimera (A/J + MRL-->A/J, the A/J and MRL M phi coexisting within the same animal retained their individual patterns of IL-1 production when isolated by negative selection. Taken together, these results provide the first substantive evidence for an intrinsic defect (IL-1 dysregulation) in M phi from MRL autoimmune-prone mice.