The objective of this study was to characterize interleukin-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1ra) and interleukin-1 beta (IL-1 beta) production by human peripheral blood neutrophils (polymorphonuclear leukocytes; PMN). Unstimulated PMN contained IL-1ra protein in the absence of IL-1ra mRNA; IL-1 beta mRNA and protein were undetectable. Lipopolysaccharide (LPS), granulocyte/macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), individually, transiently increased IL-1ra steady-state mRNA levels in PMN, with associated increases in IL-1ra protein synthesis. LPS, GM-CSF, and TNF-alpha generated similar increases in IL-1 beta mRNA, yet only LPS resulted in detectable synthesis of IL-1 beta protein. IL-4 enhanced LPS-induced IL-1ra production by PMN and inhibited LPS-induced IL-1 beta production. by PMN and inhibited LPS-induced IL-1 beta production. IL-1ra protein present within stimulated PMN supernatants existed in the 22- to 25-kD glycosylated form. Polymerase chain reaction amplification determined that only sIL-1ra mRNA was present within stimulated PMN; icIL-1ra mRNA was undetectable. These results indicate that freshly isolated PMN possess a small amount of IL-1ra protein and that these cells can respond to stimuli with a low level of sIL-1ra transcription and translation. PMN may be a major source of IL-1ra in inflammatory exudates where these cells predominate.