Imiquimod (R-837, S-26308) and the analogue S-27609 were evaluated for cytokine induction in human blood cells. Both compounds induced interferon-alpha (IFN), tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF), interleukin (IL)-1 beta, and IL-6 with S-27609 being 5 to 10 times more potent. Imiquimod and S-27609 also induced IL-1 alpha, IL-1 receptor antagonist, IL-10, granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), granulocyte CSF (G-CSF), and macrophage inflammatory protein-1 alpha. The profile of cytokines induced by imiquimod and S-27609 was different from those seen with lipopolysaccharide and polyinosinic-polycytidylic acid. Kinetic studies with both imiquimod and S-27609 revealed induction of cytokines as early as 1-4 h after stimulation. Although most of the cytokines produced by S-27609 were secreted, significant concentrations of IL-1 alpha and IL-1 beta remained intracellular. Monocytes were largely responsible for the cytokines produced. Finally, S-27609-induced mRNA expression for TNF, IFN, and IL-8, and this induction did not require protein synthesis. Taken together, these studies extend previous findings by showing induction of additional cytokines and providing insight into the mechanism of cytokine induction by these molecules.