Interleukin 1 (IL-1) is a cytokine released during immune activation that mediates the host's response to infection and inflammation. Peripheral and central injections of IL-1 induce fever and sickness behavior, including decreased food motivation and reduced interest in social activities. To determine the receptor mechanisms responsible for these effects, rats were injected with IL-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1ra), an endogenous cytokine that acts as a pure antagonist of IL-1 receptors. IL-1ra blocked the increased body temperature and oxygen consumption induced by injection of recombinant human IL-1 only when both cytokines were administered i.p. In contrast, i.p. or intracerebroventricular administration of IL-1ra blocked the depressive effect of IL-1 beta on food-motivated behavior and social exploration when this cytokine was administered by the same route as the antagonist. In addition, intracerebroventricular IL-1ra blocked the reduction in social exploration produced by i.p. IL-1 beta but had only partial antagonist effects on the decrease in food-motivated behavior induced by i.p. IL-1 beta. In each case, the dose of IL-1ra was 100- to 1000-fold in excess of the biologically active dose of IL-1. These results suggest that the receptor mechanisms that mediate the behavioral and pyrogenic effects of IL-1 are heterogeneous.