Oral epithelial cells are primary targets of Candida albicans in the oropharynx and may regulate the inflammatory host response to this pathogen. This investigation studied the mechanisms underlying interleukin-1alpha (IL-1alpha) release by oral epithelial cells and the role of IL-1alpha in regulating the mucosal inflammatory response to C. albicans. Infected oral epithelial cells released processed IL-1alpha protein in culture supernatants. The IL-1alpha generated was stored intracellularly and was released upon cell lysis. This was further supported by the fact that different C. albicans strains induced variable IL-1alpha release, depending on their cytolytic activity. IL-1alpha from C. albicans-infected oral epithelial cells upregulated proinflammatory cytokine secretion (IL-8 and GM-CSF) in uninfected oral epithelial or stromal cells. Our studies suggest that production of IL-1alpha, IL-8 and GM-CSF may take place in the oral mucosa in response to lytic infection of epithelial cells with C. albicans. This process can act as an early innate immune surveillance system and may contribute to the clinicopathologic signs of infection in the oral mucosa.