Rapid and prolonged effects of recombinant human interleukin-1 alpha (IL-1 alpha) on mouse thyroid were studied. After daily administration of 15 micrograms or 1 microgram IL-1 for 7 consecutive days, serum T4 concentrations rapidly fell to undetectable levels but returned to near control level after the cessation of IL-1. On the 31st day, 3 weeks after the drug cessation, a significant depression of serum T4 was observed again. In addition, the IL-1-treated mouse thyroid showed an in vitro unresponsiveness to TSH, with an increase of pituitary TSH (2.24-fold by 15 micrograms IL-1). To understand underlying mechanisms further, serial observations were performed. Thyroidal T4 contents increased initially, decreased to a low level at day 14, and returned to approximately the control level. IL-1 administration induced an increase in the basal thyroidal cAMP level for a prolonged period. Its response to TSH showed a gradual decline to a level approximately 30% of the control by the 31st day. Pituitary TSH contents on the 22nd and 31st days showed significant elevations. Slight decreases in thyroidal TSH binding and T4 contents also were seen concomitantly. These studies indicate that an administration of a large dose of IL-1 results in a dramatic decrease in serum T4 primarily through the inhibition of T4 release from the thyroid. The results also indicate the induction of a prolonged hypothyroid state due to the unresponsiveness to TSH via a postreceptor mechanism.