Cytokines produced by intestinal epithelial cells may function as signals to neighbouring immune and inflammatory cells. We investigated production of the neutrophil and T-lymphocyte chemotactic cytokine interleukin-8 (IL-8) by intestinal epithelial cells using four colonic adenocarcinoma cell lines, T84, CaCo-2, HT29 and SW620, as a model system. These cell lines secreted substantial amounts of IL-8 if stimulated with IL-1 beta, tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) or interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma), except CaCo-2 cells, which responded only to IL-1 beta. Bacterial lipopolysaccharide (LPS) was also an efficient stimulus of IL-8 release in SW620 and HT29 cells, whereas T84 and CaCo-2 cells were completely unresponsive to LPS, IL-8 secretion was greater at 4 hr after stimulation and was accompanied by induction of IL-8 messenger RNA. In T84 cells IFN-gamma and epidermal growth factor (EGF) stimulated IL-8 secretion synergistically with TNF-alpha, whereas in SW620 cells this synergism occurred only between IFN-gamma and TNF-alpha. IL-4, IL-10 and transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta), which can down-regulate IL-8 production in macrophages, had no effect on IL-8 generation by our cell lines. Adenocarcinoma cell culture supernatants also induced rapid transients of intracellular calcium in neutrophils. Depending on cell line and stimulus, supernatant bioactivity was completely or partially abrogated by neutralizing antibodies to IL-8, indicating that the cell lines investigated also generate other neutrophil-activating factors. IL-8 and possibly other chemokines generated by colonic adenocarcinomas may help to attract tumour-infiltrating leucocytes. Possibly, normal intestinal epithelial cells also have the potential to secrete this potent chemoattractant and thus might contribute to inflammatory responses of the intestinal mucosa, for example in inflammatory bowel disease.