The effects of exogenously administered rIL-1 alpha on elimination of viable listeriae from the liver and spleen during the course of a primary Listeria monocytogenes infection was studied. Similar numbers of L. monocytogenes were recovered from rIL-1 alpha-treated and control mice at up to 24 h after infection; however, by 48 h after infection more than 1 log10 fewer viable L. monocytogenes were recovered from the spleens of rIL-1 alpha-treated mice than from Listeria-infected controls. The difference in bacterial burden between IL-1 alpha-treated and control mice increased with time; by 7 days after infection viable L. monocytogenes had been eliminated from most rIL-1 alpha-treated mice, whereas control mice still harbored 10(4) to 10(5) L. monocytogenes per spleen and liver. Histopathologic examination confirmed that rIL-1 alpha-treated mice suffered considerably less damage to the spleen, liver, lung, and brain than did control mice. To determine whether rIL-1 alpha-mediated protection indirectly by augmenting the release of other cytokines, we determined serum levels of colony-stimulating activity and IFN activity in rIL-1 alpha-treated and control Listeria-infected mice. Treatment with rIL-alpha elicited an early burst of serum colony-stimulating activity as compared with sera from Listeria-infected control mice. These data suggest that exogenous administration of rIL-1 initiates release of colony-stimulating activity, and perhaps other cytokines, that accelerate the protective response of the infected host. Prophylactic augmentation of antimicrobial resistance by administration of rIL-1 alpha may be worthy of further evaluation.