Although major tissue trauma produces profound depression of cell-mediated immunity, it is not known whether surgical trauma (i.e., midline laparotomy) has any adverse effect on the antigen presentation function and membrane interleukin-1 (IL-1) activity of peritoneal macropahges. To study this, C3H/HEJ (endotoxin-tolerant) mice were anesthetized. An approximately 1-inch midline abdominal incision was made, followed by abdominal closure. On days 1, 3, 5, and 7, peritoneal macrophages were harvested by means of peritoneal lavage, and antigen presentation capability was tested by incubating various numbers of peritoneal macrophages with 2 × 104 D10.G4.1 cells per well in the presence of conalbumin (400 μg/ml). The T helper cell clone (D.10G4.1) proliferates on recognition of conalbumin in the context of Iak and also proliferates in the presence of membrane-bound IL-1 plus concanavalin A. To measure membrane IL-1 expression in peritoneal macrophages, Concanavalin A (10 μg/ml) was substituted for conalbumin. Cultures were incubated for 72 hours, pulsed with tritiated thymidine, and harvested. Peritoneal macrophages from laparotomized mice induced significantly less T helper cell proliferation on days 1 and 3 in the antigen presentation assay (37% and 30%, respectively; p < 0.05) and in the membrane IL-1 assay (14% and 10%, respectively; p < 0.05) as compared with the control. This difference was not detectable on day 5. More effective antigen presentation capability (167% of control; p < 0.05) was seen on day 7. Thus laparotomy by itself produces marked depression of both antigen presentation function and membrane IL-1 activity of peritoneal macrophages, which may enhance susceptibility to intra-abdominal sepsis. © 1987.