Mononuclear cells may be important regulators of fibroblast glycosaminoglycan (GAG) biosynthesis. However, the soluble factors mediating these effects, the importance of intercytokine interactions in this regulation and the mechanisms of these alterations remain poorly understood. We analyzed the effect of recombinant (r) tumor necrosis factor (TNF), lymphotoxin (LT), and gamma, alpha, and beta 1 interferons (INF-gamma, -alpha and -beta 1), alone and in combination, on GAG production by normal human lung fibroblasts. rTNF, rLT, and rINF-gamma each stimulated fibroblast GAG production. In addition, rIFN-gamma synergized with rTNF and rLT to further augment GAG biosynthesis. In contrast, IFN-alpha A, -alpha D, and -beta 1 neither stimulated fibroblast GAG production nor interacted with rTNF or rLT to regulate GAG biosynthesis. The effects of the stimulatory cytokines and cytokine combinations were dose dependent and were abrogated by the respective monoclonal antibodies. In addition, these cytokines did not cause an alteration in the distribution of GAG between the fibroblast cell layer and supernatant. However, the stimulation was at least partially specific for particular GAG moieties with hyaluronic acid biosynthesis being markedly augmented without a comparable increase in the production of sulfated GAGs. Fibroblast prostaglandin production did not mediate these alterations since indomethacin did not decrease the stimulatory effects of the cytokines. In contrast, protein and mRNA synthesis appeared to play a role since the stimulatory effects of the cytokines were abrogated by cyclohexamide and actinomycin D, respectively. In addition, the cytokines and cytokine combinations increased cellular hyaluronate synthetase activity in proportion to their effects on hyaluronic acid suggesting that induction of this enzyme(s) is important in this stimulatory process. These studies demonstrate that IFN-gamma, TNF, and LT are important stimulators of fibroblast GAG biosynthesis, that interactions between these cytokines may be important in this regulatory process, that these cytokines predominantly stimulate hyaluronic acid production and that this effect may be mediated by stimulation of fibroblast hyaluronate synthetase activity.