Mycoplasma pneumoniae (Mp) infection is associated with asthma exacerbation in children. We hypothesized that Mp infection may cause airway inflammation by inducing the release of cytokines by respiratory epithelial cells. The levels of chemokines interleukin-8 (IL-8) and released upon activation, normal t cell expressed and secreted (RANTES) released by nasal epithelial cell (NEC) cultures established from asthmatic and nonasthmatic children were measured by ELISA at 4, 24, 48, and 72 hr after cells were inoculated with Mp, and were compared with baseline release of these factors. The presence of MP on apical membranes of NEC after infection was confirmed by transmission electron microscopy, and adherence was shown to be inhibited by erythromycin. Mp infection did not alter NEC release of IL-8 or RANTES at any time point. In contrast, tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) stimulated increased IL-8 at all time points, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection stimulated RANTES release at 48 and 72 hr by NEC. These results were not significantly different between NEC from asthmatic and nonasthmatic children. As a comparison, peripheral blood mononuclear cells from normal human volunteers were also incubated with Mp and had significantly increased release of IL-2, IL-6, and TNF-alpha. We conclude that Mp, unlike viral pathogens such as RSV, is unlikely to directly stimulate early airway surface cytokine responses via mechanisms involving epithelial cells. We speculate that the chronic presence of mononuclear cells at the airway surface of asthmatics provides a target for Mp-triggered cytokine production.