Ovine lentiviruses share genome sequence, structural features, and replicative mechanisms with HIV, the etiologic agent of AIDS. A lamb model of lentivirus-induced lymphoid interstitial pneumonia, comparable to lymphoid interstitial pneumonia associated with pediatric AIDS, was used to investigate production of leukocyte-soluble mediators. Lentivirus-infected lambs and adult sheep with severe lymphoid interstitial pneumonia had significantly elevated levels of spontaneous interferon (IFN) production from pulmonary leukocytes compared with ovine lentiviruses-infected animals with mild or no lesions of lymphoid interstitial pneumonia or non-infected controls. However, peripheral blood mononuclear cells from lentivirus-infected lambs did not spontaneously release significant amounts of IFN. IFN production by pulmonary lymph node lymphocytes was enhanced in the presence of lentivirus-infected alveolar macrophages. Animals with lentivirus-induced disease and spontaneous IFN production had enhanced virus replication within tissues. The ovine lentiviruses-induced IFN had a m.w. of between 25,000 and 35,000 and was resistant to freeze/thawing procedures. The IFN activity was sensitive to trypsin and stable to low pH and heat. IFN with similar physical and biochemical properties was produced when ovine lentiviruses was added to control leukocyte cultures. IL-2 and PGE2 production and responses to mitogen by pulmonary lymph node lymphocytes of lentivirus-diseased lambs were not statistically different from control animals. Increased local production of IFN in lentivirus-infected host tissues may serve to accelerate the entry of leukocytes into virus-induced lesions promoting cell-mediated tissue damage and also provide increased numbers of cells for virus replication.