Anticytokine therapies have been promulgated in gram-negative sepsis as a means of preventing or neutralizing excessive production of proinflammatory cytokines. However, systemic administration of cytokine inhibitors is an inefficient means of targeting excessive production in individual tissue compartments. In the present study, human gene transfer was used to deliver to organs of the reticuloendothelial system antagonists that either inhibit tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) synthesis or block its interactions with cellular receptors. Mice were treated intraperitoneally with cationic liposomes containing 200 micrograms of either a pCMV (cytomegalovirus)/p55 expression plasmid that contains the extracellular domain and transmembrane region of the human p55 TNF receptor, or a pcD-SR-alpha/hIL-10 expression plasmid containing the DNA for human interleukin 10. 48 h later, mice were challenged with lipopolysaccharide (LPS) and D-galactosamine. Pretreatment of mice with p55 or IL-10 cDNA-liposome complexes improved survival (p < 0.01) to LPS-D-galactosamine. In additional studies, intratracheal administration of IL-10 DNA-liposome complexes 48 h before an intratracheal LPS challenge reduced pulmonary TNF-alpha levels by 62% and decreased neutrophil infiltration in the lung by 55% as measured by myeloperoxidase activity (both p < 0.05). Gene transfer with cytokine inhibitors is a promising option for the treatment of both the systemic and local sequelae of septic shock.