Abstract Interleukin 12 (IL-12) is a heterodimeric cytokine composed of two subunits that form the biologically active p70 molecule, and is a potent inducer of the pro-inflammatory cytokine IFN-γ. In this study the coding sequence for ovine interleukin 12 p35 and p40 subunits was derived by RT-PCR cloning. Ovine p35 and p40 cDNA sequences show a high level of similarity at the nucleic acid and protein levels when compared to corresponding bovine and human sequences. In particular, cysteine residues and N-linked glycosylation sites are conserved between species. Secretion of the IL-12 heterodimer from CHO cells co-transfected with ovine p35 and p40 cDNA was shown by immunoprecipitation of a 60 and 66 kDa protein from transfectant supernatant. In addition, the supernatant from co-transfected cells augmented the proliferation of Con A-activated ovine peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMNC). Cross-species activity was shown by the enhancement of proliferation of human phytohaemagglutinin (PHA)-activated PBMNC. Supernatants from co-transfectants of hu p35/ov p40 and ov p35/hu p40, to generate chimeric heterodimers, also demonstrated stimulatory activity. Human and chimeric IL-12-induced proliferation of activated PBMNC was inhibited using an anti-human IL-12 polyclonal antibody, however this antibody showed minimal inhibition of ovine IL-12. This study suggests that ovine IL-12 has biological properties similar to its human counterpart.