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Peritoneal macrophages undergoing apoptosis induced by Shigella flexneri infection release the inflammatory cytokine interleukin 1 (IL-1), but not IL-6 or tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF alpha). Wild type shigella causes a very fast and significant release of IL-1 from prestimulated peritoneal macrophages, before the cell's integrity is compromised. Both IL-1 alpha and IL-1 beta are released, IL-1 beta in its mature processed form. IL-1 is released from presynthesized cytoplasmic pools. These results demonstrate that bacteria-induced apoptosis of macrophages may play an active role in vivo by releasing IL-1, which in turn mediates an early inflammatory response in epithelial tissues.