Many pathogenic Escherichia coli produce the toxin alpha-hemolysin (Hly), and lipopolysaccharide (LPS), interleukin-1 (IL-1), and tumor necrosis factor (TNF) have all been recognized as important effector molecules during infections by gram-negative organisms. Despite the characterization of many in vitro effects of hemolysin, no direct relationship has been established between hemolysin, LPS, proinflammatory cytokine production, and E. coli- induced mortality. Previously, we have shown in vivo that hemolysin elicits a distinct IL-1α spike by 4 h into a lethal hemolytic E. coli infection. Using three transformed E. coli strains, WAF108, WAF270, and WAH540 (which produce no Hly [Hly(null)], acylated Hly [Hly(active)], or nonacylated Hly [Hly(inactive)], respectively), we sought to determine the specific roles of hemolysin acylation, LPS, IL-1, and TNF in mediating the lethality of E. coli infection in mice. WAF270 was 100% lethal in BALB/c, C3H/HeJ, and C57BL/6 mice; in mice pretreated with antibody to the type 1 IL-1 receptor; in type 1 IL-1 receptor-deficient mice; and in dual (type 1 IL-1 receptor-type 1 TNF receptor)-deficient mice at doses which were nonlethal (0%) with both WAF108 and WAH540. At lethal doses, WAF270 killed by 6 ± 2.3 h while WAF108 and WAH540 killed at 36 ± 9.4 and 36 ± 13.8 h, respectively. These differences in mortality were not due to IL-1 or TNF release, and the enhanced expression of LPS, which corresponded to Hly expression, was not likely the primary factor causing mortality. We demonstrate that bacterial fatty acid acylation of hemolysin is required in order for it to elicit IL-1 release by monocytes and to confer its virulence on E. coli.