Interleukin-18 (IL-18) produced by activated antigen-presenting cells stimulates natural killer (NK) cells, natural killer T (NKT) cells, and T cells to secrete gamma interferon (IFN-gamma). In this study, injection of a single 10- micro g dose of recombinant murine IL-18 rapidly, reversibly, and noncytopathically inhibited hepatitis B virus (HBV) replication in the livers of HBV transgenic mice. Furthermore, HBV replication was inhibited by as little as 1 micro g of IL-18 injected repetitively, and also by a single 0.1- micro g dose of IL-18 injected together with 1 ng of IL-12, neither of which inhibited HBV replication individually, demonstrating synergy between these cytokines in this system. The antiviral effect of IL-18 was mediated by its ability to activate resident intrahepatic NK cells and NKT cells to produce IFN-gamma and by its ability to induce IFN-alpha/beta production in the liver. These results suggest that IL-18 has the potential to contribute to the control of HBV replication during self-limited infection and that it may have therapeutic value for the treatment of patients with chronic hepatitis.