The cytokines TNF and IL-1 have been implicated as mediators of the inflammatory processes in patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). To investigate the role of these cytokines in mucosal inflammation we used anti-cytokine strategies in a mouse model of acute and chronic colitis. Mice which received 5% dextran sulphate sodium (DSS) in their drinking water showed signs of acute colitis on day 4, with severe weight loss and bloody diarrhoea. Chronic colitis was established after four cycles of feeding 5% DSS for 7 days and water for 10 days, with the mice showing diarrhoea but no weight loss. In acute colitis, treatment with anti-IL-1 reagents, anti-TNF MoAb, or dexamethasone (DEX) led to aggravation. By contrast, in chronic colitis, treatment of mice with several IL-1 activity-inhibiting reagents failed to show significant effects, whereas anti-TNF MoAb or DEX significantly reduced the colitis. We conclude that in acute colitis IL-1 and TNF are beneficial, whereas in chronic colitis, TNF but not IL-1 seems to play a major role in perpetuation of chronic inflammation.