The ornithine-containing lipids (OL)-induced cytokine production pattern in macrophage-like J774.1 and RAW 264.7 cells was different from that in the peritoneal macrophages previously reported. OLs, as well as lipopolysaccharide (LPS) of Escherichia coli, strongly induced tumor necrosis factor (TNF) alpha but not interleukin (IL)-1beta in J774.1 cells. In the RAW cells, IL-1beta, TNF-alpha and prostaglandin E(2) were strongly induced by the OLs and LPS. OL- and serine-glycine-containing lipid (SGL)-induced TNF-alpha production in J774.1 and RAW 264.7 cells required serum. However, in CD14-deficient LR-9 cells, TNF-alpha was not induced by the OLs in the presence or absence of serum. OLs and a SGL almost completely inhibited the binding of (125)I-LPS to J774.1 cells. These results suggested that OLs and SGL activate macrophages via the CD14-dependent pathway.