The p40 subunit of IL-12 (IL-12p40), but not the heterodimeric form IL-12p70, is secreted during the development of silica-induced lung fibrosis in C57BL/6 mice. To delineate the contribution of IL-12p40 to the lung inflammatory and fibrotic processes, we compared the pulmonary responses with silica particles of IL-12p35-deficient mice (IL-12p35(-/-), able to produce IL-12p40) and IL-12p40-deficient mice (IL-12p40(-/-)). IL-12p35(-/-) and IL-12p40(-/-) animals developed strikingly contrasting responses to silica in comparison with wild-type C57BL/6 mice. Although the IL-12p40(-/-) mice exhibited limited inflammatory and fibrotic reactions, the IL-12p35(-/-) mice presented a robust and well-developed pulmonary inflammation and fibrosis. Furthermore, the silica-induced increase in lung IL-12p40 content was significantly higher in IL-12p35(-/-) mice than in wild-type controls, and was associated with extensive lung fibrosis and pulmonary macrophage infiltration. The contrasting responses observed between these two IL-12 subunit-deficient murine strains were not accompanied by a strict type 1 or type 2 polarization as estimated by the measurements of lung IFN-gamma/IgG2a and IL-4/IgG1 content. In vitro proliferation, type I collagen expression, as well as myofibroblast differentiation of purified pulmonary fibroblasts were not affected by treatment with exogenous rIL-12p40. In vivo, supplementation with rIL-12p40 restored the impaired pulmonary fibrotic response and macrophage accumulation in silica-treated IL-12p40(-/-) mice, and also promoted fibrosis and macrophage influx in wild-type mice. Together, our data suggest that IL-12p40 plays an important role in silica-induced pulmonary inflammation and fibrosis, possibly by exacerbating macrophage recruitment.