The release of interleukin-8 (IL-8), interleukin-6 (IL-6) and the soluble forms of the tumour necrosis factor receptor (sTNF-R) from human pulmonary type II-like epithelial cells (A549) after respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection was analysed. RSV infection alone induced a time- and RSV dose-dependent IL-8 and IL-6 release from A549 cells. Furthermore, the soluble form of the TNF-RI was also secreted in a time- and RSV dose-dependent fashion. The soluble TNF-RII was not detected in the cell supernatant of infected epithelial cells. The effect of various cytokines [IL-1 alpha/beta, TNF-alpha/beta, IL-3, IL-6, interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma), transforming growth factor-beta 2 (TGF-beta 2)] and colony-stimulating factors [granulocyte (G)-CSF; granulocyte-macrophage (GM)-CSF] on the IL-8 release from A549 cells was also studied. Our data show that the proinflammatory cytokines IL-1 alpha/beta and TNF-alpha/beta induced an IL-8 release in non-infected A549 cells, and increased the IL-8 release of RSV-infected A549 cells synergistically. In addition, IL-3, G-CSF, IFN-gamma and TGF-beta 2, albeit at high concentrations, induced a low IL-8 release from non-infected A549 cells. The enhanced IL-8 secretion rates were accompanied with elevated cytoplasmic IL-8 mRNA steady state levels, as was shown by Northern blot analysis. Cellular co-culture experiments performed with A549 cells and polymorphonuclear granulocytes or peripheral blood mononuclear cells revealed that increased IL-8 amounts were secreted in the co-culture of non-infected as well as RSV-infected cells. The present study suggests a central role for the airway epithelium during RSV infection with regard to cytokine and cytokine receptor release, resulting in a recruitment and activation of inflammatory and immune effector cells. Our data also suggest that paracrine cytokine networks and cell-cell contact are involved in the regulation of IL-8 secretion within the microenvironment of the bronchial epithelium.