Bryostatin 1, a potent activator of protein kinase C, has antitumor activity against murine lymphoma, leukemia, and melanoma. In vitro, this compound stimulates the release of gamma-interferon, interleukins, and hematopoietic growth factors from accessory cells and activates both T- and B-cells. Bryostatin 1 is also able to stimulate neutrophils to undergo oxidative burst and degranulation. Because of the ability of this compound to stimulate the immune system, cause release of immune mediators, and activate neutrophils, we have examined its effect on bacterial infection by using the gram-negative bacterium Salmonella typhimurium in mice. We find that animals given injections i.v. of S. typhimurium have a shortened life span if they are also given injections i.p. of nonlethal doses of bryostatin 1. There is a dose-response relationship with 100 micrograms/kg bryostatin 1 having a greater effect on survival than 40 micrograms/kg. Below 40 micrograms/kg there are no effects on survival. Analysis of the first 4 h of Salmonella infection demonstrates that bryostatin 1 does not affect the blood clearance of the bacterium. However, by day 2 of infection greater numbers of bacteria are found in the livers and spleens of mice given injections of bryostatin 1. By day 5, 10-fold more S. typhimurium bacteria are found in the livers and spleens of mice receiving 40 micrograms/kg of bryostatin 1. To determine whether bryostatin 1 was affecting growth or causing the death of bacteria, we used a Salmonella carrying a plasmid which has a temperature-sensitive origin of replication and is unable to replicate when the bacteria are in mice. This experiment demonstrates that bryostatin 1 represses bacterial killing but does not affect bacterial growth. Bryostatin 1 given i.p. stimulates a transient syndrome of weight loss and diarrhea from which the mice recover and regain weight, suggesting that bryostatin 1 may release a number of important humoral mediators in vivo. The weight loss is exacerbated by Salmonella infection with mice receiving bryostatin 1 and S. typhimurium, in that they lose approximately 33% of body weight prior to death. Thus, at doses used to treat murine tumors, bryostatin 1 treatment does not affect the clearance of S. typhimurium from the blood but does decrease the killing of bacteria in the liver and spleen, leading to early animal death. Such potential effects of bryostatin 1 on the outcome of bacterial infections should be evaluated in ongoing human trials of this agent.