Cyclic nucleotide phosphodiesterase (PDE) enzymes may participate in regulation of the inflammatory response through their effects on second messengers. In the present study, we have investigated the role of nonselective and isozyme selective PDE inhibitors in altering the antigen-driven cytokine gene expression of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from atopic individuals. Ragweed and tetanus toxoid were used as model antigens. The nonselective PDE inhibitor, 3-isobutyl-1-methylxanthine (IBMX), and the selective PDE4 inhibitor, rolipram, markedly suppressed interleukin-5 (IL-5) and interferon gamma (IFN gamma) gene expression in both antigen-driven systems. Gene expression for IL-4 was unaffected by these agents in the ragweed-driven system. Message for IL-4 could not be detected in the tetanus toxoid-driven system, despite the use of a quantitative, competitive reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) assay sensitive to less than 10 fg of target template. The PDE3 inhibitor, siguazodan, was ineffective in downregulating gene expression for the proinflammatory cytokines assayed; when used in combination with the PDE4 inhibitor, the PDE3 inhibitor provided no increase in efficacy over that seen with the PDE4 inhibitor alone. Gene expression for the A and B isoforms of the PDE4 in PBMCs was unaffected by antigen stimulation or treatment with the PDE4 inhibitor; however, differences in expression of these two isoforms were apparent when a variety of immune cell lines were studied. These data support the hypothesis that the primary anti-inflammatory target for PDE inhibition in PBMCs is the PDE4. Furthermore, the expression of various isoforms of this enzyme may differ between immune cell types. Finally, PDE4 isoform expression in PBMCs is independent of treatment with an isozyme selective inhibitor.