The regulation of the activity of potentially harmful proteinases secreted by neutrophils during inflammation is important for the prevention of excessive tissue injury. Secretory leukocyte proteinase inhibitor (SLPI), also called antileukoprotease (ALP) or mucus proteinase inhibitor (MPI), is a serine proteinase inhibitor that has been found in a variety of mucous secretions and that is secreted by bronchial epithelial cells. We recently reported the presence of SLPI and of an elastase-specific inhibitor (ESI), also called elafin, in the supernatants of two cell lines, NCI-H322 and A549, which have features of Clara cells and type II alveolar cells, respectively. We showed in addition that epithelial cell lines produce the elastase-specific inhibitor as a 12 to 16 kD precursor of the elafin molecule (6 kD) called pre-elafin. In the present study, we show that NCI-H322 cells produced higher amounts of both inhibitors than A549 cells and that basal production of SLPI in both cell lines is higher than the production of elafin/pre-elafin. In addition, we show that interleukin-1 beta and tumor necrosis factor induce significant SLPI expression and are major inducers of elafin/pre-elafin expression. Moreover, induction is greater in A549 cells than in NCI-H322 cells. The implications of these findings for the peripheral airways are twofold: (1) alveolar epithelial cells may respond to cytokines secreted during the onset of inflammation by increasing their antiprotease shield; (2) elafin/pre-elafin seems to be a true local "acute phase reactant" whereas SLPI, in comparison, may be less responsive to local inflammatory mediators.