A quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay for mRNA expression of interleukin-8 (IL-8), a neutrophil chemotactant and activator, was developed to examine the expression of this cytokine by colonic mucosa. A synthetic IL-8 RNA deleted in size of native IL-8 mRNA was used as an external control. The synthetic IL-8 RNA was mixed with total RNA from cells and converted to cDNA and amplified by PCR simultaneously. The lower limit of sensitivity for the assay was found to be more than 1 femtogram of IL-8 mRNA. The assay determined IL-8 mRNA expression when the RNA was isolated from either human histiocytic lymphoma cell line U937 cells or human colonic mucosa obtained from colitis patients and healthy controls. The development of the rapid and sensitive assay should provide a means to more fully evaluate the role of this cytokine in diverse disease states with small scale.