The kinetics of interleukin-2 (IL-2), IL-6, IL-8 and IL-10 gene expression in concanavalin A (Con A)-activated whole blood (WB) and peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) cultures were examined using reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). Unstimulated PBMC or WB cultures failed to show increases in basal cytokine PCR amplicon levels for any cytokine examined. PBMC cultures demonstrated peak expression of IL-2, IL-6, IL-8 and IL-10 mRNA levels at 12, 24, 24 and 6h, respectively. WB cultures exhibited peak IL-2, IL-6, IL-8 and IL-10 mRNA levels at 24, 12, 6 and 24h, respectively. PBMC cultures consistently exhibited higher levels of IL-2 mRNA at all times examined than did WB cultures. WB cultures consistently had higher levels of IL-6 mRNA than PBMC cultures. IL-8 and IL-10 protein levels in PBMC cultures were first detected 12h after stimulation and continued to increase in concentration through 48h. In WB cultures, IL-8 and IL-10 protein levels were first noted at 12 and 6h, respectively. WB culture IL-8 and IL-10 levels quickly reached equilibrium after being detected and remained at levels lower than those noted in PBMC cultures. These results show WB cultures represent an approach with reduced cost and time when compared to traditional cell culture and isolation methods. It may also produce an in vitro test system that more closely resembles in vivo conditions.