The majority of biologic functions assigned to cytokines have been characterized by in vitro assay systems which may not necessarily reflect cytokine roles in vivo. Recently, recombinant virus approaches have allowed tissue-specific expression of foreign gene products in experimental animal models. We have constructed recombinant human type 5 adenoviruses, deficient in the E3 region of the genome, with incorporated rodent IL-6 cDNA that express significant levels of biologically active IL-6 on infection both in vitro and in vivo. After i.p. injection, the liver, spleen, and peritoneum appear to be primary sites of expression, whereas the lung and bronchus are the main sites of expression after intratracheal instillation. Injection i.p. of BALB/c mice with the murine rIL-6 virus causes an increase in serum levels of bioactive IL-6 for up to 6 days post-infection, whereas similar changes are not seen in animals infected with control viruses. Coincident with enhanced plasma levels of IL-6, we detect raised serum levels of hepatic-derived acute phase proteins. Associated with the expression of IL-6 in the liver and spleen, at 7 days we note a fourfold splenomegaly with expansion of B and T cell compartments, as well as the presence of lymphoid aggregates in the liver. These morphologic changes had resolved by 16 days. Our findings demonstrate that recombinant human type 5 adenoviruses expressing cDNA for various cytokines could be used as a transient pseudo-transgenic animal model to investigate the biologic function of cytokines in vivo.