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Francisella tularensis live vaccine strain (LVS) was grown in culture with nonadherent resident, starch-elicited, or Proteose Peptone-elicited peritoneal cells. Numbers of bacteria increased 4 logs over the input inoculum in 48 to 72 h. Growth rates were faster in inflammatory cells than in resident cells: generation times for the bacterium were 3 h in inflammatory cells and 6 h in resident macrophages. LVS-infected macrophage cultures treated with lymphokines did not support growth of the bacterium, although lymphokines alone had no inhibitory effects on replication of LVS in culture medium devoid of cells. Removal of gamma interferon (IFN-gamma) by immunoaffinity precipitation rendered lymphokines ineffective for induction of macrophage anti-LVS activity, and recombinant IFN-gamma stimulated both resident and inflammatory macrophage populations to inhibit LVS growth in vitro. Inflammatory macrophages were more sensitive to effects of IFN-gamma: half-maximal activity was achieved at 5 U/ml for inflammatory macrophages and 20 U/ml for resident macrophages. IFN-gamma-induced anti-LVS activity correlated with the production of nitrite (NO2-), an oxidative end product of L-arginine-derived nitric oxide (NO). Anti-LVS activity and nitrite production were both completely inhibited by the addition of either the L-arginine analog NG-monomethyl-L-arginine or anti-tumor necrosis factor antibodies to activated macrophage cultures. Thus, macrophages can be activated by IFN-gamma to suppress the growth of F. tularensis by generation of toxic levels of NO, and inflammatory macrophages are substantially more sensitive to activation activities of IFN-gamma for this effector reaction than are more differentiated resident cells.