The induction of thrombocytopenia results in elevated levels of thrombopoietin (TPO), which can be detected in the plasma of experimental animals. Acute, severe thrombocytopenia (platelet count less than 5% of control) was produced in mice by the administration of either guinea pig or rabbit antimouse platelet antiserum. Control mice received equal volumes of normal serum. At various times after the induction of thrombocytopenia (0.5, 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 12, and 24 hours) citrated plasma was collected, and circulating interleukin-6 (IL-6) levels were measured using the IL-6-dependent murine hybridoma cell line B9. At no time points after induction of thrombocytopenia were plasma IL-6 levels significantly different from control animals that received normal serum. However, injection of heterologous serum did result in slightly elevated plasma IL-6 levels (at 2 and 3 hours) compared with basal levels measured in uninjected animals. This brief increase was not related to the production of thrombocytopenia. Protein fractions from the plasma of thrombocytopenic rabbits were also tested for the presence of IL-6. Preparations that contained TPO, as shown by stimulation of megakaryocyte maturation in vitro, did not contain detectable levels of IL-6. The ability of the B9 assay to detect the elevation of IL-6 levels in murine or rabbit plasma was verified after the administration of bacterial endotoxin, which is known to increase circulating IL-6 concentrations. IL-6 levels were highly elevated in rabbit or mouse serum after the administration of 5 mg/kg or 1 mg/kg of endotoxin, respectively. Anti-IL-6 antiserum did not neutralize the in vitro megakaryocyte maturation activity of partially purified TPO from the plasma of thrombocytopenic rabbits. In addition, IgG purified from the same antiserum did not neutralize partially purified TPO, as shown after incubation with TPO and subsequent precipitation with agarose- bound protein A. These results show that, unlike TPO, levels of IL-6 do not increase after the induction of acute, severe thrombocytopenia, and strongly suggest that IL-6 does not mediate the thrombopoietic response to acute thrombocytopenia. Although prolonged administration of IL-6 has been shown to induce thrombocytosis, IL-6 and TPO are apparently different and immunologically distinct molecules.