The immune and neuroendocrine systems communicate and maintain homeostasis through various mechanisms, including the use of common signal and recognition molecules and the use of similar processes. This type of integrated network has profound effects on the onset and outcome of certain disease states, including endotoxic shock, in which a cascade of mediators influence the pathophysiologic responses. We have found that some of the common signal molecules shared between the immune and neuroendocrine systems are the peptide hormones adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) and endorphins (END). Our investigations have shown that these molecules are produced in vitro by cells of the immune system treated with various stimuli, including immunological stimuli such as bacterial lipopolysaccharide (LPS; endotoxin), virus infection (Newcastle virus; NDV), and the more classical neuroendocrine stimuli corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH). We have proposed that the production of END by the peripheral immune system contributes to the pool of opioid peptides associated with the pathophysiology of endotoxic shock. Lymphocytes from LPS-sensitive C3HeB/FeJ mice but not LPS-resistant C3H/HeJ mice produce END and ACTH both in vitro and in vivo after treatment with LPS. Purification of the in vitro produced LPS-induced END from B-lymphocyte spleen cells followed by injections into both LPS-sensitive and -resistant mice elicits changes in body temperature and respiration rate. The spleen cells from the LPS-sensitive mice process ACTH and END differently depending on the stimulus for induction and the cell type in which the processing takes place. CRH or virus induce ACTH 1-39 and β-END, whereas inductions with LPS yield major products of ACTH 1-22 to 1-26 and γ-END, products that are for the most part unique to the immune system. We have shown that LPS induces a novel protease that functions optimally at pH 5 to cleave ACTH 1-39 into ACTH 1-22 to 1-26. This enzyme is present in LPS, but not mock or CRH-induced B cells from LPS-sensitive mice. The LPS-resistant mice did not possess this enzyme and therefore produced only the high-molecular-weight pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC)-like molecule. The inability to produce ACTH and END, presumably by their inability to process the precursor, may account, in part, for their lack of response to the LPS. The POMC peptides also may play an indirect role in orchestrating the pathophysiologic response, since both ACTH and END were shown to induce tumor necrosis factor (TNF). Our data strongly suggest that lymphocyte POMC peptides ACTH and END are important mediators in the overall response to endotoxin.