We examined the effects of administering recombinant bovine cytokines to non-lactating dairy cows and measured mammary gland leucocytes and the involution process. After the final milking, groups of cows were given an intramammary infusion of cytokine in two quarters. These cytokines were recombinant bovine interleukin-2 (rbolL-2) (2 x 10(5) units, n = 6), recombinant bovine granulocyte-macrophage colony stimulating factor (rboGM-CSF) (500 microg, n = 4) and recombinant bovine interleukin-1beta (rbolL-1beta) (10 microg, n = 10). Each animal also received an infusion of phosphate-buffered saline (PBS) in the other two quarters as controls. The rbolL-2 and rboGM-CSF were produced in a yeast expression system, while rbolL-1beta was produced in Escherichia coli. Leucocyte numbers, bactericidal activity of leucocytes, and concentrations of citrate and lactoferrin in quarter secretion samples were monitored after infusion of cytokine or PBS. Infusion of rbolL-2 had minimal effect on leucocyte numbers and concentrations of citrate and lactoferrin. Both rboGM-CSF and rbolL-1beta induced a rapid increase in the number of neutrophils and macrophages compared with control PBS quarters. Concentrations of lactoferrin in secretions were increased by rboGM-CSF and rbolL-1beta compared with control PBS quarters. In addition, infusion of glands with rbolL-1beta lowered the citrate:lactoferrin molar ratio compared with PBS control quarters. The results indicate that intramammary infusion of either rboGM-CSF or rbolL-1beta at cessation of milking immediately increased the number of phagocytic cells in the gland. These cytokines, in particular rbolL-1beta, also increased the rate of mammary gland involution during the early dry period.