Systemic anti-cytokine therapies have been unsuccessful in preventing mortality from gram-negative bacteremia in humans partly because of the failure to neutralize pro-inflammatory cytokines at sites of exaggerated production. In an attempt to deliver anti-inflammatory cytokines to organs directly, gene transfer was employed. Thirty-six BALB/c mice were injected intraperitoneally with cationic liposomes containing plasmids encoding the human interleukin-4 (hIL-4) or IL-13 gene. Both, hIL-4 and hIL-13 mRNA were detected by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction analysis in the liver and the spleen of the animals. Fourty-eight hours after the in vivo gene transfer, these 36 mice and 18 mock-transfected mice, were challenged with a lethal dose of E. coli lipopolysaccharide with D-galactosamine (D-GalN). Gene transfer with hIL-4 reduced the serum tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha production in response to endotoxin/D-GalN by 80% from 113.1 pg/ml in mock-transfected animals to 22.2 pg/ml (p < 0.05); human IL-13 gene transfer reduced serum TNF-alpha levels by 90% (113.1 pg/ml to 11.6 pg/ml; p < 0.05). Survival was improved from 20% to over 83% in both treatment groups (p < 0.001). Our data demonstrate a potent in vivo anti-inflammatory action of both IL-4 and IL-13. In addition, the immune functions of peritoneal macrophages are significantly ameliorated in both treatment groups, with IL-13 demonstrating better macrophage immune modulation than IL-4 (p < 0.05).