Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) of which imipramine is one, are commonly used in the treatment of depressive disorders and other forms of psychiatric illness. There have been many reports regarding the suppressive effects of TCAs on immune function. However, information is still limited regarding the effects of TCAs on the immune system, as many of the studies conducted to date have concentrated on in vitro exposure to such drugs, or ex vivo measures of immunity following drug administration. Thus in the present investigation, an in vivo challenge with bacterial lipopolysaccharide (LPS) (100 mu g/kg; i.p.) was used to assess immunocompetence following administration of a single high dose of the TCA, imipramine (100 mg/kg, p.o.). The results demonstrated that imipramine pretreatment inhibits LPS-induced increases in serum concentrations of the proinflammatory cytokine, tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha both 3 and 6 h, following administration. However, LPS-induced interleukin (IL)-1 beta secretion was not significantly altered following imipramine treatment at either of the timepoints examined. In addition, serum concentrations of corticosterone and the antiinflammatory cytokine IL-10 were measured, and imipramine treatment failed to alter either basal, or LPS-induced increases in these immunosuppressive agents. In conclusion, although IL-1 beta and TNF-alpha are both macrophage-derived proinflammatory cytokines, the present study demonstrates a differential sensitivity of these cytokines to the suppressive effects of the TCA imipramine. Furthermore, the suppressive effects df imipramine on LPS-induced TNF-alpha secretion could not be attributed to either increased glucocorticoid levels, or increased secretion of the antiinflammatory cytokine IL-10. The relevance of these findings to antidepressant-induced immunotoxicity are discussed. (C) 1999 International Society for Immunopharmacology. Published by Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.