Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), in which immunocompetent donor cells attack the host, remains a major cause of morbidity after allogeneic bone marrow transplantation (BMT). To understand the role of cytokines in the pathobiology of GVHD, we used cytokine knockout (KO) mice as a source of donor T cells. Two different MHC-disparate strain combinations were examined: BALB/c (H2(d)) donors into lethally irradiated C57BL/6 (H2(b)) recipients or C57BL/6 (H2(b)) donors into B10.BR (H2(k)) recipients. Donor cells were from mice in which either the interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) or the IL-4 gene was selectively disrupted to understand the role of these cytokines in acute GVHD. In both strain combinations the same pattern was noted with regard to GVHD onset and morbidity. All mice exhibited the classic signs of acute GVHD: weight loss with skin, gut, and liver pathology resulting in morbidity and mortality. Surprisingly, donor cells obtained from mice lacking IFN-gamma gave rise to accelerated morbidity from GVHD when compared with cells from wild-type control donors. Similar results were obtained using normal donors when neutralizing antibodies to IFN-gamma were administered immediately after the BMT. These results suggest that IFN-gamma plays a role in protection from acute GVHD. In marked contrast, cells obtained from IL-4 KO mice resulted in protection from GVHD compared with control donors. Splenocytes from IFN KO mice stimulated with a mitogen proliferated to a significantly greater extent and produced more IL-2 compared with splenocytes obtained from IL-4 KO or control mice. Additionally, there was increased IL-2 production in the spleens of mice undergoing GVHD using IFN-gamma KO donors. These results therefore indicate, with regard to the TH1/ TH2 cytokine paradigm, the absence of a TH1-type cytokine can be deleterious in acute GVHD, whereas absence of a TH2 cytokine can be protective.