The effects of the cytokine, interleukin-1 beta (IL-1 beta), and its receptor antagonist IL-1ra, were studied on long-term potentiation in the dentate gyrus of rat hippocampal slices. Field excitatory postsynaptic potentials were recorded extracellularly in the molecular region of the dentate gyrus in response to stimulation of the medial perforant path. Low frequency synaptic transmission was unaffected by IL-1 beta (1 ng/ml), but pre-treatment with IL-1 beta completely blocked induction of long-term potentiation. Co-application of IL-1 beta and IL-1ra (100 ng/ml) attenuated the inhibitory effect of IL-1 beta. In parallel with these findings, we demonstrate that IL-1 beta also inhibited 45Ca influx into the slices. The inhibitory effect of IL-1 beta on induction was mimicked by tumour necrosis factor (TNF; 4.5 ng/ml) and lipopolysaccharide (LPS; 10 micrograms/ml). These results indicate a modulatory role for cytokines in hippocampus and suggest that the inhibitory effect of IL-1 beta on long-term potentiation may relate to its inhibitory effect on calcium channel activity.