There are numerous causes for slow or delayed wound healing. Because slowly healing wounds are often inflamed, we quantitated the inflammatory chemokine, interleukin-8, produced by slowly healing human burn wounds and compared this to interleukin-8 from healed wounds and normal intact skin. Interleukin-8 levels were increased significantly in unhealed wounds (19.7 ng/ml) compared to healed wounds (7.7 ng/ml) or normal skin (5.7 ng/ml). Interleukin-8 in these ranges was added to adult human keratinocytes and fibroblasts. Interleukin-8 significantly decreased keratinocyte replication but had no effect on fibroblast replication. The rate or final degree of fibroblast populated collagen lattice contraction was inhibited at interleukin-8 concentrations between 10 and 30 ng/ml, but not altered at concentrations below 10 ng/ml and above 100 ng/ml. The concurrent application of indomethacin at 10 microg/ml reversed this interleukin-8 induced inhibition. Interleukin-8 inhibited myosin ATPase activity, apparently by reducing the phosphorylation of nonmuscle myosin light chain. We conclude that elevated levels of interleukin-8 may be found during delayed healing, and these elevated interleukin-8 levels may directly contribute to retarded wound closure.