Interleukin-12 (IL-12), a heterodimeric cytokine, plays an important role in cellular immunity to several bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections and has adjuvant activity when it is codelivered with DNA vaccines. IL-12 has also been used with success in cancer immunotherapy treatments. However, systemic IL-12 therapy has been limited by high levels of toxicity. We describe here inducible expression and secretion of IL-12 in the food-grade lactic acid bacterium Lactococcus lactis. IL-12 was expressed as two separate polypeptides (p35-p40) or as a single recombinant polypeptide (scIL-12). The biological activity of IL-12 produced by the recombinant L. lactis strain was confirmed in vitro by its ability to induce gamma interferon (IFN-gamma) production by mouse splenocytes. Local administration of IL-12-producing strains at the intranasal mucosal surface resulted in IFN-gamma production in mice. The activity was greater with the single polypeptide scIL-12. An antigen-specific cellular response (i.e., secretion of Th1 cytokines, IL-2, and IFN-gamma) elicited by a recombinant L. lactis strain displaying a cell wall-anchored human papillomavirus type 16 E7 antigen was dramatically increased by coadministration with an L. lactis strain secreting IL-12 protein. Our data show that IL-12 is produced and secreted in an active form by L. lactis and that the strategy which we describe can be used to enhance an antigen-specific immune response and to stimulate local mucosal immunity.