Tuberculosis is a major cause of mortality worldwide and incidence is increasing as a result of the AIDS epidemic. Cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF) are important in the host response to Mycobacterium tuberculosis. TNF is involved in both granuloma formation and has direct anti-mycobacterial activity. This study investigated the secretion of interleukin (IL)-8 following phagocytosis of M. tuberculosis by a human monocytic cell line and by a more phenotypically mature macrophage-like cell line. M. tuberculosis is shown to be a more potent inducer of IL-8 but not of TNF than bacterial lipopolysaccharide in vitro in both cell types. IL-8 production is partly a consequence of accumulation of mRNA coding for this cytokine. Secretion of IL-8 is not a simple consequence of the phagocytic process but due to the specific interaction M. tuberculosis and the monocyte. IL-8 production was independent of TNF and of virulence of the strain of M. tuberculosis. IL-8 secretion following phagocytosis of M. tuberculosis suggests that this cytokine may be involved in granuloma formation in vivo, possibly acting, in part, as a T cell chemoattractant.