In a previous study, we found that total body irradiation (TBI) was essential to induce acute graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) after allogeneic H-2-incompatible splenocyte (SP) transplantation in SCID mice. SCID mice (H-2d) conditioned with cyclophosphamide and transplanted intravenously (IV) with 5 x 10(7) C57BL/6 (H-2b) SP developed chronic GVHD within 3 months posttransplant without any evidence of preceding acute GVHD. In this study, SCID mice were conditioned with 4 Gy TBI or non-TBI regimens, either BuCy2 (busulfan 4 mg/kg/d + cyclophosphamide 100 mg/kg/d for 2 days) or Cy5 (cyclophosphamide 100 mg/kg/d for 5 days), and then transplanted IV with 5 x 10(7) SP. The TBI-conditioned mice were further divided into tree transplant groups: (1) TBI and SP administered the same day (TBI + D0 SP), (2) SP administered 4 days post-TBI (TBI + D4 SP), and (3) SP administered 7 days post-TBI (TBI + D7 SP). The severity of GVHD was compared among these groups by clinical and histologic grading. Twenty- eight of 28 mice treated with TBI + D0 SP died of acute GVHD, with overwhelming diarrhea by day 15 posttransplantation. Sixteen mice treated with either TBI + D4 SP or TBI + D7 SP developed acute GVHD, but none of them died of this disorder during 30 days posttransplantation. The mice conditioned with non-TBI regimens developed chronic GVHD within 3 months without showing any detectable signs of acute GVHD. Serum and in situ colonic cytokines were determined by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and immunohistology respectively. TBI itself significantly increased both serum and colonic tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), interleukin-1 alpha (IL-1 alpha), and IL-6 when compared with non-TBI regimens and normal controls. TNF-alpha appeared in the serum and colon 4 hours post-TBI and peaked in 24 hours, followed by increasing IL-1 alpha and then IL-6 levels. TNF-alpha and IL-1 alpha decreased rapidly within 3 to 5 days post-TBI if no allogeneic cells were transplanted. Histoincompatible transplantation augmented cytokine release, which remained elevated on day 10 in these animals. Mice treated with TBI + D0 SP developed the most severe acute GVHD and had the highest levels of TNF-alpha, IL-1 alpha, and IL-6. The BuCy2-conditioned mice had the lowest cytokine levels and developed no acute GVHD. When the mice transplanted with TBI + D0 SP were treated immediately with recombinant soluble human TNF receptor (rhuTNFR:Fc) 100 micrograms/d intraperitoneally and for the subsequent 15 days acute GVHD mortality was significantly reduced from 100% to 50% (P < .001).