Pseudomonas aeruginosa is the most frequent Gram-negative pathogen causing nosocomial pneumonia. Four different strains of P. aeruginosa (including three isogenic transposon mutants) were utilized in experiments in mice to characterize the specific patterns of cytokine generation in response to bacterial products and cytotoxicity. Intratracheal instillation of any of the strains led to the up-regulation of IL-1beta, IL-6, and TNF-alpha mRNA. Instillation of the cytotoxic strains (PA103, PA103tox::omega) led to IL-10 mRNA up-regulation in the lungs and increased concentrations of IL-10 in the blood. In contrast, the instillation of the noncytotoxic strains (PA01, PA103exsA::omega) did not lead to an increase in IL-10 mRNA in the lungs or to an increase of IL-10 concentration in blood. IL-10 production appears to be a response to either cellular injury or to specific cytotoxic exoproducts produced by the bacteria. The systemic administration of rIL-10 significantly decreased the lung injury and the mortality in mice who had received the cytotoxic strains. The improvement in survival induced by administration of rIL-10 required the concomitant presence of IFN-gamma, as blockade of IFN-gamma with a neutralizing Ab led to 100% mortality, despite the administration of rIL-10. These results suggest that IL-10 is produced in response to specific bacterial products and that there is a potential role for IL-10 in the treatment of cytotoxic P. aeruginosa pneumonia.