Interleukin (IL)-1, IL-6 and tumor necrosis factor (TNF) are considered as important mediators for the modulation of liver synthesis of acute phase proteins. However, studies of the direct effect of individual or a combination of these cytokines on the synthesis of acute phase proteins in human hepatocytes are still very limited. In this study, we have examined the synthesis of C-reactive protein (CRP) and serum amyloid A (SAA) in primary cultures of human hepatocytes exposed to recombinant(r)IL-1 alpha (100 U/ml), rIL-6 (2000 U/ml), rTNF alpha (30 U/ml) and to various combinations of these cytokines in the presence of 1 microM dexamethasone. Monoclonal antibodies to rTNF alpha and monospecific anti-rIL-6 sheep antiserum were also used to investigate the possible endogenous production of TNF or IL-6. The findings indicate: (1) IL-1 and IL-6 are stimulatory cytokines for the liver synthesis of CRP and SAA. Anti IL-6 abolishes the stimulatory effect of IL-1. These findings support the previous observation and indicate that IL-1 exerts its action on the enhanced synthesis of CRP and SAA at least in part via IL-6 production in the liver cell. (2) TNF is an inhibitory cytokine for the liver synthesis of CRP. It inhibits also the stimulatory effect of IL-1 and IL-6 on the synthesis of CRP and SAA. (3) Since anti-TNF enhances the stimulatory effect of IL-6 on the synthesis of CRP and SAA, it seems likely that TNF is also produced by the human hepatocytes. However, further studies for more direct evidence of the liver cell production of TNF, such as the detection of TNF messenger RNA are required.