Imbalances of Th1- and Th2-type responses have been postulated to be a predisposing factor for both humoral and cellular mediated autoimmune diseases. To further define their roles in systemic autoimmunity, IL-4 and IFN-gamma gene knockout mice were studied for susceptibility to the prototypic Th2-mediated mercury-induced autoimmunity. A predominant Th2-type response following HgCl2 treatment of wild-type B10.S mice was confirmed by the findings of a significant increase in splenic IL-4 and hypergammaglobulinemia primarily of the IgG1 isotype, without an increase in IFN-gamma levels. Paradoxically, IL-4-deficient mice developed the characteristic anti-nucleolar autoantibodies and tissue deposition of immune complexes, while IFN-gamma-deficient mice had very low autoantibody levels and essentially normal immunohistology. Studies to define defects in Ab responses of IFN-gamma-deficient mice, using the T-dependent Ag (4-hydroxy-3-nitrophenyl)acetyl, revealed an attenuated IgG response to low and to a lesser extent high doses of (4-hydroxy-3-nitrophenyl)acetyl-hemocyanin, but maintenance of affinity maturation. These results indicate that Th1/Th2 imbalance does not directly play a role in susceptibility to mercury-induced autoimmunity, and suggest that the dependence on Th1-type responses in certain autoimmune diseases is due to the requirement for IFN-gamma for Ab production to weakly antigenic self molecules.