Dysregulated neutrophil (polymorphonuclear PMN) apoptosis is thought to contribute to the onset of adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) in critically ill patients. Tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNFalpha), which is present in elevated levels in the bronchoalveolar lavage fluid in patients with ARDS, is thought to play a central role in regulating PMN function in the lungs. Studies have shown that short-term culture with TNFalpha increases apoptosis yet extended culture with TNFalpha suppresses apoptosis. However, it is unclear whether this latter effect of TNFalpha is directly or indirectly mediated through production of anti-apoptotic cytokines such as interleukin (IL)-8. To investigate the role of IL-8 in TNFalpha-induced apoptosis PMN were exposed to TNFalpha (100 ng/mL) in the presence or absence of antibodies to IL-8, and the extent of apoptosis was assessed. An enzyme-linked immunoassay was used to measure levels of the anti-apoptotic cytokine IL-8, induced by TNFalpha-stimulation. Because TNFalpha may mediate its effect through various cell-signaling pathways, we next assessed the effect of kinase inhibition on the ability of TNFalpha to effect apoptosis and IL-8 production. Treatment with TNFalpha had a biphasic effect: at 4-8 h, apoptosis was increased but was markedly suppressed at 24 h (P < 0.05). PMN cultured for 24 h with TNFalpha also showed markedly increased levels of IL-8. Neutralization of IL-8 inhibited the ability of TNFalpha to suppress apoptosis (P < 0.05). Incubation of TNFalpha + p38-mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) inhibitor SB202190 increased apoptosis (P < 0.01) and decreased IL-8 production to PMN control. To a lesser extent, incubation of TNFalpha with inhibitors to NF-kappaB (SN50) and PI3K (LY294002) also increased apoptosis and decreased IL-8 production (P < 0.05). These data illustrate a novel mechanism by which TNFalpha can indirectly elicit an anti-apoptotic effect via p38-MAPK induced release of the anti-apoptotic chemokine IL-8. The exploitation of such a pathway represents a potential target for regulation of PMN-mediated acute lung injury.