Interleukin-8/CXCL8 (IL-8) is a chemokine and angiogenic factor. Recently, IL-8 was identified as an autocrine growth factor in several human cancers. Here, we investigated the expression and function of IL-8 in lung cancer cells. The expressions of IL-8 and its receptors, CXCR1 and CXCR2, were examined in a panel of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC) cell lines. Using reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, we found that all NSCLC cell lines tested produced modest or high levels of IL-8 (up to 51 ng ml(-1) 10(6) cells(-1)). Expression of CXCR1 and CXCR2 was found by RT-PCR and flow cytometry in two out of three cell lines. In contrast, SCLC cell lines produced very low or undetectable levels of IL-8, but expressed CXCR1 and CXCR2. We next investigated whether IL-8 could act as an autocrine growth factor in two NSCLC cell lines (H460 and MOR/P) expressing both IL-8 and its receptors. We found that cell proliferation was attenuated by anti-IL-8 neutralising antibody to 71 and 76% in H460 and MOR/P, respectively (P<0.05). Exogenous IL-8 significantly stimulated cell proliferation in four SCLC cell lines tested in a dose-dependent fashion. Cell proliferation was increased by between 18% (P<0.05) and 37% (P<0.05). Stimulation of cell proliferation by IL-8 was also demonstrated by analysis of proliferating cell nuclear antigen expression and cell cycle in H69 cells. Furthermore, we investigated which receptor(s) mediated the mitogenic function of IL-8 in lung cancer cells. We found that cell proliferation was significantly reduced by anti-CXCR1 antibody but not by anti-CXCR2 antibody. In conclusion, IL-8 can act as an autocrine and/or paracrine growth factor for lung cancer cells, and the mitogenic function of IL-8 in lung cancer is mediated mainly by CXCR1 receptor.