To investigate the role of astroglia in intracerebral immune response to Toxoplasma gondii, astrocytes cultured from mouse brain were inoculated with mouse-virulent or -avirulent toxoplasma strains. In comparison to microglia/ brain macrophages, astrocytes as host cells allowed stronger proliferation of avirulent parasites. Toxoplasma infection of astroglia was accompanied by release of interleukin- (IL)1 alpha, IL-6, and granulocyte/macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) activity, whereas alternative challenge by lipopolysaccharide (LPS) evoked no IL-1 response and significantly higher titers of IL-6 and GM-CSF. At the mRNA level, both stimuli induced transcription of all three cytokines in astrocytes. Secretion of IL-1 and IL-6 upon infection was triggered by T. gondii brady- and tachyzoites in a time- and dose-dependent manner. Heat killing of parasites, but not an exposure to polymyxin B, abrogated their cytokine-inducing activity, thus indicating that an LPS-independent stimulus is provided by T. gondii. When administered in combination, LPS synergistically augmented the IL-1-inducing effect of toxoplasma infection. In comparison, T. gondii-induced, but not an LPS-triggered, IL-6 response of astrocytes resisted to antagonization with IL-10. The IL-6 response of parasitized astroglia was up-regulated by external tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha and transforming growth factor (TGF)-beta 1, with only TNF-alpha enhancing simultaneous release of IL-1. Substantial secretion of IL-10 and TNF-alpha was detected in T. gondii-infected microglia, but not in astrocyte cultures. A possibly autocrine stimulation of infected astroglia via IL-1 was found to be unlikely, since addition of IL-1 receptor antagonist did not affect the release of IL-6 and GM-CSF while inhibiting these responses in IL-1-treated cells. The findings substantiate a separate, T. gondii-induced pathway of astroglia activation characterized by the release of IL-1 which may drive local inflammatory reaction both at initial infection of the brain and during reactivating toxoplasmosis.