ICAM-1 is a cell surface glycoprotein which is one of the ligands for the leukocyte function-associated antigen (LFA-1). It is involved in leukocyte adhesion to endothelial cells as well as in immune functions requiring cell-cell contact. The quantitative expression of ICAM-1 in various cell types can be either induced or enhanced by treatment with cytokines, such as interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma), tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha or interleukin 1 (IL 1), a phenomenon which results in the augmentation of binding to LFA-1-positive cells. In contrast, treatment with anti-ICAM-1 antibodies blocks this binding. A monoclonal antibody (mAb), termed 7F7, which recognizes an epitope on ICAM-1, was used to investigate the role of ICAM-1 in cytokine production by T lymphocytes and monocytes. Production of TNF-alpha. IFN-gamma and IL1 was significantly inhibited (p less than 0.01) by the incubation of mAb 7F7 with phytohemagglutinin-activated blood mononuclear cells (MNC) or isolated E rosette-positive T lymphocytes. The maximal level of inhibition was reached with 1 microgram/ml of purified antibody. A similar inhibition was obtained using saturating concentrations of 400 microliters/ml of mAb 7F7 hybridoma supernatant corresponding to an inhibitory activity of 1 microgram of purified mAb. In contrast, granulocyte/macrophage-colony-stimulating factor release showed a heterogeneous response over five experiments with an increase found in three experiments and a decrease in two experiments. Addition of increasing concentrations of supernatant or purified mAb to unstimulated MNC or T lymphocyte cultures had no effect on cytokine release. The observed inhibition of the production of TNF-alpha. IFN-gamma and IL 1 by antibody-mediated blockade of the ICAM-1 structure probably represents a negative circuit that serves to tune the activation of leukocytes and to avoid an overproduction of cytokines.