Intraperitoneal administration of zymosan and acetic acid induced a dose-dependent nociceptive writhing response in mice. Lavage of the peritoneal cavities with saline reduced the number of total resident peritoneal cells and caused a proportional decrease in the nociceptive responses induced by these stimuli. Furthermore, the specific reduction of the peritoneal mast cell population by intraperitoneal administration of compound 48/80 also reduced the nociceptive responses induced by zymosan and acetic acid. In contrast, enhancement of the peritoneal macrophage population by pretreatment of the cavities with thioglycollate caused an increase in the number of writhes induced by both stimuli. These data suggest that the nociceptive responses induced by zymosan and acetic acid are dependent upon the peritoneal resident macrophages and mast cells. These cells modulate the nociceptive response induced by zymosan and acetic acid via release of tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), interleukin 1beta and interleukin 8. This suggestion is supported by the following observations: (a) pretreatment of the peritoneal cavities with antisera against these cytokines reduced the nociceptive responses induced by these stimuli; (b) peritoneal cells harvested from cavities injected with zymosan or acetic acid released both interleukin 1beta and TNF-alpha; (c) although individual injection of TNF-alpha, interleukin 1beta or interleukin 8 did not induce the nociceptive effect, intraperitoneal injection of a mixture of these three recombinant cytokines caused a significant nociceptive writhing response. In conclusion, our results suggest that the nociceptive activity of zymosan and acetic acid in the writhing model is due to the release of TNF-alpha, interleukin 1beta and interleukin 8 by resident peritoneal macrophages and mast cells.