Previous reports suggested that brain-derived proinflammatory cytokines are involved in the pathogenesis of hepatic encephalopathy (HE) and brain edema in acute liver failure (ALF). To further address this issue, expression of interleukin-1beta (IL-1beta), tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) and interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) mRNAs were measured in the brains of mice with acute liver failure resulting from exposure to azoxymethane. In addition, time to severe encephalopathy (coma) was assessed in mice lacking genes coding for interferon-gamma, the tumor necrosis factor receptor-1 or the interleukin-1 type 1 receptor. Interleukin-1beta, tumor necrosis factor-alpha and interferon-gamma expression were quantified using RT-PCR. Significant increases in interleukin-1beta and tumor necrosis factor-alpha mRNA were observed in the frontal cortex of azoxymethane-treated wild-type mice at coma stages of encephalopathy. Interferon-gamma, however, could not be detected in the brains of these animals. Onset of severe encephalopathy (coma) and brain edema in ALF mice were significantly delayed in interleukin-1 type 1 receptor or tumor necrosis factor receptor-1 knockout mice. Deletion of the interferon-gamma gene, on the other hand, had no significative effect on the neurological status or brain water content of acute liver failure mice. These results demonstrate that toxic liver injury resulting from exposure to azoxymethane is associated with selective induction of proinflammatory cytokines in the brain and that deletion of tumor necrosis factor receptor-1 or interlukin-1 type 1 receptor delays the onset of coma and brain edema in this model of acute liver failure. These findings further support a role for selective brain-derived cytokines in the pathogenesis of the cerebral complications in acute liver failure and suggest that anti-inflammatory strategies could be beneficial in their prevention.