Peptide mediators, including tumor necrosis factor-alpha, interleukin 1 and interleukin-6, are associated with many chronic inflammatory diseases and septic shock. As such, considerable information has been collected by means of study of cytokine secretion from isolated cells or plasma cytokines during septic shock or inflammatory disorders. In this investigation, we used semiquantitative polymerase chain reaction analysis and a recently developed liver slice model to examine the characteristics of cytokine profiles that occur in the liver, the main organ involved in endotoxemia, after lipopolysaccharide challenge. Tumor necrosis factor-alpha, interleukin-1 alpha and interleukin-6 were rapidly secreted after in vivo LPS exposure or when added in vitro to rodent or human liver slice samples. This increase was associated with increased cytokine-specific mRNA transcripts. Kinetic analysis revealed that most tumor necrosis factor-alpha is released from the liver within 1 hr of lipopolysaccharide challenge, whereas interleukin-1 alpha and interleukin-6 continued to be produced for the entire culture period. Addition of monoclonal antibodies against tumor necrosis factor-alpha or interleukin-1 alpha to the culture partly inhibited interleukin-6 secretion, indicating that interleukin-1 alpha and tumor necrosis factor-alpha help mediate and sustain interleukin-6 synthesis. Depletion of hepatic sinusoidal macrophages (Kupffer cells) by a liposome-mediated macrophage "suicide" technique indicated that almost all of the secreted interleukin-1 alpha and tumor necrosis factor-alpha originate from these cells, whereas interleukin-6 secretion might also include other cell types. This study supports and extends previous findings and allows for a more rational approach to developing effective therapies against chronic inflammatory diseases and septic shock.