The enzyme 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-coenzyme A (HMG-CoA) reductase catalyses the rate limiting step in cholesterol biosynthesis and is markedly inhibited by the statin family of drugs. The effect of statins on lipid lowering is clearly defined, but the ability of the drugs to directly regulate inflammatory functions has not been well explored. In this report, we show that there are differences among the statins in their capacity to induce proinflammatory responses both in human monocytes in vitro, and in leukocytes in mice in vivo. Treatment of human monocytes with lipophilic statins alone stimulated the production of MCP-1, IL-8, TNF-alpha and IL-1 beta and markedly sensitized the cells to subsequent challenge with inflammatory agents. Lipophilic statins also increased the production of reactive oxygen species in monocytes. In contrast, pretreatment of cells with the hydrophilic pravastatin did not induce these heightened inflammatory responses. Furthermore, treatment of mice with lipophilic statins caused a markedly higher influx of leukocytes into the inflamed peritoneal cavity following challenge with thioglycollate. Overall, these results demonstrate that the lipophilic statins influence a regulatory pathway in monocytes that controls cytokine production and that the statins induce different pro-inflammatory responses both in vitro and in vivo.