Because reactive oxygen species have been implicated in the pathogenesis of various hyperproliferative and inflammatory diseases, the mRNA expression of the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase was studied in psoriatic skin tissue. By using reverse transcription-PCR we found similar expression of copper, zinc superoxide dismutase (CuZnSOD) in the involved vs. uninvolved psoriatic skin. In contrast, the level of the manganese superoxide dismutase (MnSOD) mRNA message was consistently higher in lesional psoriatic skin as compared to adjacent uninvolved skin and healthy control skin. Parallel investigation of those cytokines that are thought to be direct or indirect inducers of the MnSOD activity revealed an increased mRNA expression of IL-1 beta, TNF-alpha, and GM-CSF in lesional psoriatic skin. To study if these cytokines exert a direct effect on dismutase expression in epidermal cells, human keratinocytes in culture were challenged with IL-1 beta, TNF-alpha, and GM-CSF. It was found that IL-1 beta and TNF-alpha, but not GM-CSF, induced the mRNA expression of MnSOD, and an additive effect was demonstrated for the two former cytokines. Further, the expression of both CuZnSOD and MnSOD transcripts was similar in cultured keratinocytes maintained at low differentiation (low Ca2+ medium) and cells forced to terminal differentiation (by high Ca2+ medium). Our results indicate that the abnormal expression of MnSOD mRNA in lesional psoriatic skin is not directly linked to the pathologic state of keratinocyte differentiation in the skin. It seems more likely that the cutaneous overexpression of MnSOD in psoriatic epidermis represents a protective cellular response evoked by cytokines released from inflammatory cells invading the diseased skin.