Lipopolysaccharide-treated murine peritoneal exudate macrophages (PEM) release a factor or factors into the supernatant that suppress adrenocorticotropic hormone-induced steroidogenesis in explanted rabbit adrenocortical cells (J. C. Mathison et al., J. Immunol. 130:2757-2762, 1983). To determine the requirements for suppression, PEM supernatants (30 microliters) were added to explanted rabbit adrenocortical cells in a final volume of 120 microliters with 10 mU of adrenocorticotropic hormone per ml, and after 18 h at 37 degrees C, steroid concentrations were measured by a fluorometric assay. Supernatant from proteose peptone-elicited C3HeB/FeJ PEM (5 X 10(6) PEM per 3.5-cm well, 10 micrograms of Salmonella minnesota Re595 LPS per ml, 18 h) suppressed steroid production ca. 50%, and kinetic studies demonstrated that the appearance of suppressive activity in the supernatant was gradual over 4 to 18 h. Release of suppressive activity was not associated with decreased viability of the PEM (assessed by fluorescein diacetate staining and measurement of lactic dehydrogenase in the supernatant). Suppression was not observed when the PEM supernatant was diluted 10-fold before addition to the adrenocortical cells, whereas supernatant concentrated 20-fold (prepared with a 10,000-molecular-weight-cutoff filter) produced 75 to 80% suppression. The suppressive activity was stable at pH 4, pH 11, or 70 degrees C for 30 min but was inactivated at 100 degrees C (10 min). Suppressive activity was also induced in C3HeB/FeJ PEM by O111:B4 lipopolysaccharide or heat-killed Listeria monocytogenes. In contrast, PEM from C3H/HeJ mice did not produce detectable suppressive activity in response to Re595 lipopolysaccharide or heat-killed L. monocytogenes. Thus, these results provide additional support for the inducible, selective release of a macrophage product that could affect the host response to lipopolysaccharide by regulation of the adrenocortical response to adrenocorticotropic hormone.