In proliferative glomerulonephritis glomeruli are the target of an inflammatory reaction involving macrophage recruitment and activation. We examined the role of mesangial cells in this process. Supernatants from basal, IL-1, IFN-tau or LPS-stimulated rat mesangial cells (MCS) were tested for chemotactic, colony-stimulating and activation effects on macrophages in vitro. IL-1-stimulated MCS produced a macrophage chemoattractant (p = 0.007 compared with basal MCS) and MCP-1 mRNA was detected in IL-1-stimulated mesangial cells. LPS or IL-1-stimulated MCS produced colony-stimulating activity (LPS p < 0.05, IL-1 p < 0.01, compared with basal MCS or control supernatant, CS). Macrophage activation, assessed by nitric oxide generation, was suppressed. This evidence from functional bioassays supports a selective role for mesangial cells in the control of macrophage-induced glomerular injury, whereby activated mesangial cells participate in the recruitment and proliferation of infiltrating macrophages, and suppresses at least one field of macrophage activation, namely nitric oxide generation.