Interleukin-6 (IL-6), among other cytokines, is thought to be involved in the regulation of sickness behavior (e.g., anorexia, cachexia, fever, and lethargy) induced by infections bacterial and viral origin) and sterile tissue necrosis (burns and surgical traumas). Mice deficient in IL-6 (IL-6 KO) were generated by gene targeting. Homozygous IL-6 KO male and female mice and their appropriate controls were implanted with biotelemeters to monitor body temperature (Tb) and motor activity (Act). Normal circadian rhythms in Tb and Act as well as rates of food intake and weight gain did not differ significantly between sex-matched IL-6 KO and control groups at 30 degrees C in a 12:12-h light-dark cycle. Sterile tissue damage was induced in mice by subcutaneous injection of turpentine (0.1 ml, left hindlimb). Influenza pneumonitis was induced by intranasal inoculation of mouse-adapted influenza A virus (17.5 plaque-forming units). Lack of IL-6 completely prevented fever, anorexia, and cachexia because of turpentine abscess in both sexes. It did not prevent lethargy, although IL-6 KO mice recovered to normal Act significantly sooner than wild-type mice. Symptoms of sickness were only slightly modified during influenza virus infection in IL-6 KO mice. Attenuation of sickness behavior was more pronounced in IL-6 KO female than in male mice. We conclude that, although IL-6 is induced during both turpentine abscess and influenza infection, this cytokine appears to be more critical in induction of the symptoms of sickness behavior during sterile tissue abscess than during influenza infection.