Sepsis remains a serious clinical problem despite intense efforts to improve survival. Experimental animal models of sepsis have responded dramatically to immunotherapy blocking the activity of cytokines. Despite these preclinical successes, human clinical trials have not demonstrated any improvement in survival. We directly compared the mortality, morbidity, and immunopathology in two models of sepsis, one due to lipopolysaccharide (LPS) and the other to cecal ligation and puncture (CLP). BALB/c mice were injected intraperitoneally with 250 microg of LPS or subjected to CLP with an 18-gauge needle. Both models yielded similar mortality (> 85%) and morbidity. Additionally, neutropenia and lymphopenia developed in both groups. Plasma and peritoneal levels of cytokines (TNF, IL-1, IL-6, and the chemokines KC and MIP-2) were measured at 1.5, 4, and 8 h after challenge. LPS induced substantially higher levels of cytokines in both compartments with peak levels between 1.5 and 4 h that began to decline at 8 h. In contrast, cytokine levels in the CLP model were continuing to increase at the 8 h-time point and often exceeded the LPS-induced values at this time. Our data demonstrate that the LPS and CLP models have similar mortality but significant differences in the kinetics and magnitude of cytokine production. Immunotherapy for sepsis based on cytokine production after LPS challenge is misdirected because the LPS model does not accurately reproduce the cytokine profile of sepsis.