Cytokines produced by human retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells may function as important regulators of intraocular inflammation. We investigated the effect of transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta) on interleukin-1 beta (IL-1 beta) induction of IL-6 and IL-8 mRNA levels and protein production by human RPE cells. Both TGF-beta and IL-1 beta alone induce IL-6 mRNA and IL-6 production in human RPE cells and synergize to enhance IL-6 mRNA levels and IL-6 production over a range of TGF-beta (0.1-10 ng/ml) and IL-1 beta concentrations (5-500 U/ml). TGF-beta was also found to enhance IL-1 beta induction of IL-8 mRNA levels at lower IL-1 beta concentrations (50 U/ml) but had no effect at higher IL-1 beta concentrations (500 U/ml). However, TGF-beta had no synergistic effect on IL-1 beta induction of IL-8 secretion. These results suggest that expression of IL-6 and IL-8 in human RPE cells is regulated by different transcriptional and translational mechanisms, and that RPE cells are important regulators of cytokine production within the ocular microenvironment.