IL-10 and IL-12 are cytokines which are important in regulating immune responses. Plasma levels of IL-10 and autoantibodies against double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) often mirror disease activity in patients with SLE. IL-12 secretion from SLE patients' blood mononuclear cells also correlates with disease activity, but has an inverse relationship. The aim of this study was to measure the effect of IL-10 and of IL-12 on the production of IgG autoantibodies from patients with SLE, both cross-sectionally and longitudinally. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) were cultured with IL-10 (at 20 ng/ml or 2 ng/ml) or IL-12 (at 2 ng/ml or 0.2 ng/ml) or without cytokine and the supernatanants tested for the production of double-stranded DNA antibodies (dsDNA abs), single-stranded DNA antibodies (ssDNA abs) and total IgG antibodies (IgG abs) by ELISA. The BILAG disease activity index was recorded at each patient visit (a global score of six or more is regarded as active disease). In general, treatment with IL-10 caused PBMCs from patients with inactive disease to increase their antissDNA and dsDNA ab production (by upto 354% and 186%, respectively) while patients with active disease decreased their antibody production (by upto 91% and 97%, respectively). Overall there was a correlation between disease activity and change in antissDNA and dsDNA ab production (r = - 0.51; P = 0.03 and r = - 0.48; P = 0.042, respectively). Treatment with IL-12 at 0.2 ng/ml inhibited antissDNA and dsDNA antibody production, having the greatest effect on patients with active disease (decreasing antissDNA and dsDNA antibody production by upto 75% and 73%, respectively). This resulted in a significant correlation between disease activity and change in antissDNA antibody production (r = - 0.76; P = 0.03), but significance was not reached with antidsDNA antibody production (P = 0.06). Together these data suggest that the effect of these cytokines on antibody production by SLE PBMCs involves several factors; one of which is disease activity.