Interleukin-11 (IL-11) is a cytokine belonging to the IL-6 family which has both pro- and anti-inflammatory potential. Like IL-6 it can diminish tumour necrosis factor-alpha and IL-1 production, and augment immunoglobulin synthesis. We have explored the immunomodulatory effects of IL-11 treatment in mice in a model of inflammatory autoimmune joint disease, collagen-induced arthritis (CIA). Recombinant human IL-11 was administered at various doses to DBA/1 mice after the onset of CIA. IL-11 treatment caused a significant reduction in the clinical severity of established CIA, which was associated with protection from joint damage, as assessed by histology. Although there was a suggestion at high doses of IL-11 that the anticollagen type II (CII) response may have been augmented, there was no statistically significant effect of IL-11 treatment on anti-CII antibody levels. Similarly, the acute-phase reactant serum amyloid P was only elevated in mice receiving very high doses (50-100 microgram/day) of IL-11. Endogenous IL-11 was abundantly produced in synovial membrane cultures derived from CII-immunized mice with active disease, suggesting that, as in rheumatoid arthritis, this cytokine is spontaneously produced in the inflammatory response in CIA. The results presented here demonstrate an anti-arthritic immunoregulatory role for IL-11 in murine CIA, and suggest that IL-11 is a candidate therapeutic molecule for human inflammatory arthritic diseases.