Intercellular adhesion molecule 1 (ICAM-1) is one of three immunoglobulin superfamily members that bind to the integrins lymphocyte function associated 1 (LFA-1) and Mac-1 on leukocytes. We have generated mice that are genetically and functionally deficient in ICAM-1. These mice have elevated numbers of circulating neutrophils and lymphocytes, as well as diminished allogeneic T cell responses and delayed type hypersensitivity. Mutant mice are resistant to lethal effects of high doses of endotoxin (lipopolysaccharide [LPS]), and this correlates with a significant decrease in neutrophil infiltration in the liver. Production of inflammatory cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor alpha or interleukin 1 is normal in ICAM-1-deficient mice, and thus protection appears to be related to a diminution in critical leukocyte-endothelial interactions. After sensitization with D-galactosamine (D-Gal), ICAM-1-deficient mice are resistant to the lethal effect of low doses of exotoxin (Staphylococcus aureus enterotoxin B [SEB]), which has been shown to mediate its toxic effects via the activation of specific T cells. In this model, ICAM-1-mediated protection against SEB lethality correlates with a decrease in the systemic release of inflammatory cytokines, as well as with prevention of extensive hepatocyte necrosis and hemorrhage. ICAM-1-deficient mice sensitized with D-Gal, however, are not protected from lethality when challenged with low doses of endotoxin (LPS). These studies show that the different contribution of ICAM-1 in the activation of either T cells or macrophages is decisive for the fatal outcome of the shock in these two models. This work suggests that anti-ICAM-1 therapy may be beneficial in both gram-positive and -negative septic shock, either by reducing T cell activation or by diminishing neutrophil infiltration.