Endotoxins (lipopolysaccharide, LPS) are biologically active substances present in Gram-negative bacteria. Injection of purified LPS into experimental animals leads to the development of many biological activities that can lead to shock with lethal outcome. The biological activities of LPS are not direct effects of the LPS molecule since LPS usually expresses no direct cytotoxic activity. The toxic and other biological properties of LPS are caused indirectly through the action of endogenous mediators that are formed following interaction of LPS with cellular targets, macrophages occupying a key position in the development of endotoxin shock. The interaction of LPS with macrophages may proceed directly leading to activation of these cells, with subsequent synthesis and secretion of a number of endogenous mediators which initiate the different biological activities of LPS. Tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), a macrophage derived cytokine, is a primary mediator of the lethal action of endotoxin. Sensitivity to LPS is genetically determined, varying considerably among different species. The sensitivity of normal animals (mice) to endotoxin may be enhanced considerably under different experimental conditions that include treatment with live (infection) or killed Gram-negative and -positive bacteria. Sensitization to endotoxin proceeds in all LPS-responder strains investigated and in the LPS-resistant mice of the strain C3H/HeJ. It does not proceed in a second LPS-resistant strain, C57BL/10ScCr. The absence of sensitization in the latter mice was found to be due to an impaired IFN-gamma production. IFN-gamma could be identified as the mediator of endotoxin hypersensitivity induced by bacteria.