In this study, recombinant human IL-1 alpha (rhIL-1 alpha) was used to protect normal and tumor-bearing BALB/c mice from the acute toxicity caused by lethal doses of cyclophosphamide (Cy) and 5-fluorouracil. Pretreatment of mice for 7 days with 10,000 U/day of rhIL-1 alpha protected 70 to 100% of mice from the acute death induced by lethal doses of both Cy (380 mg/kg) and 5-fluorouracil (250 mg/kg). In contrast, post-treatment of mice with single or multiple doses of rhIL-1 alpha was not chemoprotective. Pretreatment of mice with rhIL-1 alpha increased the acute LD90 of Cy from 380 mg/kg to greater than 500 mg/kg in normal mice, an LD90 dose-modifying effect of at least 1.25, was accompanied by a more rapid recovery from neutropenia and a less severe reduction in the number of bone marrow single lineage monocyte, myeloid, or myelomonocytic colonies. Some of the mice (10 to 50%) that were successfully protected by pretreatment with rhIL-1 alpha died after day 50. These mice consistently presented with extensive pulmonary inflammation and fibrosis at death. Mice bearing murine renal cancer (Renca) were also protected from the acute toxic effects of Cy (450 mg/kg) by pretreatment with rhIL-1 alpha. Renca-bearing mice pretreated with rhIL-1 alpha and either sublethal (300 mg/kg) or lethal (450 mg/kg) doses of Cy exhibited enhanced survival times over those of untreated Renca-bearing mice. Interestingly, the cause of death in Renca-bearing mice that ultimately failed treatment with rhIL-1 alpha plus 300 mg/kg Cy was recurrent tumor, whereas most mice treated with rhIL-1 alpha plus 450 mg/kg Cy had no detectable tumor, although several died from late pulmonary inflammation and fibrosis. Thus, the dose escalation of Cy in rhIL-1 alpha-pretreated mice results in greater antitumor effects of Cy. However, the dose escalation of some cytotoxic agents allowed by the use of myelostimulatory agents can result in late fatal complications not detected in acute toxicity testing.