The majority of Onchocerca volvulus-infected persons show signs of cellular anergy, and long-time survival of adult and larval parasites in subcutaneous tissue is observed. The mechanisms leading to immunological hyporesponsiveness are poorly understood. Monocytes/macrophages represent a link between the innate and acquired immune system and are candidate cells to promote inflammatory and antiinflammatory processes. In the present study we have shown that products of microfilarial (O. volvulus) and adult (O. volvulus and O. ochengi) parasites affect monocytes in vitro. An early production of TNF-alpha by exposed monocytes was followed by the production of IL-10 and a reduced expression of HLA-DR and the costimulatory molecules B7-1 and B7-2, while other adhesion receptors remained unaffected. Downregulation of the functional membrane receptors failed to occur after treatment of the cells with anti-IL-10 antibodies. The engagement of CD14, a dominant membrane receptor on monocytes and major binding protein for lipopolysaccharides, was indicated by partial blocking of monocyte modulation by neutralizing antibodies to CD14 and by the antagonistic lipid A analog compound 406. Lipopolysaccharide-like molecules were detected in sterile products of O. volvulus stages which could originate from Wolbachia bacteria related to Gram-negative Rickettsiales, known to be abundant in the hypodermis and the female reproductive organs of O. volvulus. The present results indicate that the monocyte/macrophage may be a major target cell for immunomodulatory parasite-derived and intraparasitic, bacteria-derived molecules, thereby contributing to the host's cellular hyporesponsiveness.