Mastomys coucha and jirds infected with Acanthocheilonema viteae, a filarial species free of endosymbiontic bacteria of the genus Wolbachia, suffer lethal side effects after effective microfilaricidal therapy with diethylcarbamazine and levamisole, whereas, M. coucha infected with the Wolbachia-infested species Brugia malayi or Litomosoides carinii tolerate corresponding treatment. Mortality in A. viteae infected, treated animals varied with microfilariae density in the blood. It was up to 100% in highly microfilaraemic M. coucha and jirds, but low or absent in animals with low microfilariae counts. Deaths occurred in most cases 5-24 h after treatment. Characteristic symptoms in animals, which died subsequently were a rapid drop in body temperature by 4-7 degrees C, an increase in hematokrit values by up to 10% and a moderate blood acidosis. Lethal effects in A. viteae infections did not depend on a particular status of hypersensitivity of the animals since desensitization procedures, which protected infected M. coucha against an otherwise lethal intravenous challenge with A. viteae homogenate did not protect against adverse reactions to a subsequent microfilaricidal treatment. The animals were protected from treatment induced death by injection of N-LMMA. Thus the final morbific agent seems NO. The data show that adverse effects after effective microfilaricidal therapy may be caused by microfilariae derived components different from Wolbachia-released LPS.