Recent studies have shown that increased lymphocyte apoptosis contributes to sepsis-induced mortality. Furthermore, studies have demonstrated that IL-10 can suppress lymphocyte apoptosis, in part, by upregulating Bcl-2 expression and interfering with activation induced cell death. We have previously shown that intrathymic delivery of IL-10 with an adenoviral vector in wild-type mice significantly improves outcome to sepsis. Presently, we investigated the role of endogenous IL-10 expression on thymocyte apoptosis and outcome in IL-10 null mice subject to induction of generalized polymicrobial peritonitis via cecal ligation and puncture. Compared to wild-type C57BL/6 mice, IL-10 null mice demonstrated increased mortality and enhanced lymphocyte apoptosis. Intrathymic injection with an adenoviral vector expressing human IL-10 prior to cecal ligation and puncture in IL-10 null mice significantly improved outcome and decreased thymic caspase-3 activity. Furthermore, plasma concentrations of IL-6 were also significantly reduced in IL-10 null mice treated with the IL-10 expressing adenovirus. In contrast, injection of a control adenovirus did not improve outcome in IL-10 null mice, nor was caspase-3 activity reduced. Thus, local thymic expression of IL-10 not only improves outcome but also reduces local tissue apoptosis and caspase-3 activity, and appears to attenuate the systemic proinflammatory cytokine response.