Insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus in nonobese diabetic (NOD) mice results from selective destruction of pancreatic islet beta-cells following islet infiltration by mononuclear leukocytes. Cytokines produced by islet-infiltrating mononuclear cells may be involved in beta-cell destruction. Therefore, we analyzed cytokine mRNA expression, by reverse-transcriptase PCR (RT-PCR) assay, in mononuclear leukocytes isolated from pancreatic islets of four groups of mice: diabetes-prone female NOD mice; female NOD mice protected from diabetes by injection of CFA at an early age; male NOD mice with a low diabetes incidence; and female BALB/c mice that do not develop diabetes. We found that mRNA levels of IL-1 beta, IL-2, IL-4, IL-10, and IFN-gamma in mononuclear cells from islets of diabetes-prone female NOD mice increased progressively as these cells infiltrated the islets from age 5 wk to diabetes onset (> 13 wk). However, only IFN-gamma mRNA levels were significantly higher in islet mononuclear cells from 12-wk-old diabetes-prone female NOD mice than from less diabetes-prone NOD mice (CFA-treated females, and males) and normal mice (BALB/c). In contrast, IL-4 mRNA levels were lower in islet mononuclear cells from diabetes-prone female NOD mice than from NOD mice with low diabetes incidence (CFA-treated females and males). Splenic cell mRNA levels of IFN-gamma and IL-4 were not different in the four groups of mice. These results suggest that islet beta-cell destruction and diabetes in female NOD mice are dependent upon intra-islet IFN-gamma production by mononuclear cells, and that CFA-treated female NOD mice and male NOD mice may be protected from diabetes development by down-regulation of IFN-gamma production in the islets.