The production and action of immunoregulatory cytokines, including interleukin-1 (IL-1), are inhibited by glucocorticoid hormones in vivo and in vitro. Conversely, glucocorticoid blood levels were increased by factors released by human leukocytes exposed to Newcastle disease virus preparations. This activity was neutralized by an antibody to IL-1. Therefore the capacity of IL-1 to stimulate the pituitary-adrenal axis was tested. Administration of subpyrogenic doses of homogeneous human monocyte-derived IL-1 or the pI 7 form of human recombinant IL-1 to mice and rats increased blood levels of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and glucocorticoids. Another monokine, tumor necrosis factor, and the lymphokines IL-2 and gamma-interferon had no such effects when administered in doses equivalent to or higher than those of IL-1. The stimulatory effect of IL-1 on the pituitary-adrenal axis seemed not to be mediated by the secondary release of products from mature T lymphocytes since IL-1 was endocrinologically active when injected into athymic nude mice. These results strongly support the existence of an immunoregulatory feedback circuit in which IL-1 acts as an afferent and glucocorticoid as an efferent hormonal signal.