Lymphoproliferation, chronic B cell activation resulting in hypergammaglobulinemia, and profound immunodeficiency are prominent features of a retrovirus-induced syndrome designated murine acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (MAIDS). In vivo treatment of infected mice with recombinant interleukin 12 (IL-12) beginning at the time of infection or up to 9 wk after virus inoculation markedly inhibited the development of splenomegaly and lymphadenopathy, as well as B cell activation and Ig secretion. Treatment with IL-12 also had major effects in preventing induction of several immune defects including impaired production of interferon gamma (IFN-gamma) and IL-2 and depressed proliferative responses to various stimuli. The therapeutic effects of IL-12 on the immune system of mice with MAIDS were also associated with reduced expression of the retrovirus that causes this disease (BM5def), with lesser effects on expression of ecotropic MuLV. IL-12 treatment was not effective in IFN-gamma knockout mice or in infected mice treated simultaneously with IL-12 and anti-IFN-gamma. These results demonstrate that induction and progression of MAIDS are antagonized by IL-12 through high-level expression of IFN-gamma and may provide an experimental basis for developing treatments of retrovirus-induced immune disorders with similar immunopathogenic mechanisms.