The production of cytokines during aging, except interleukin (IL)-2, has been neglected in humans. We measured the in vitro production of IL-6, tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha, interferon (IFN)-gamma and IL-1 beta by peripheral mononuclear cells from selected healthy young (mean age 26.8 years) and aged (mean age 80.2 years) subjects. Significant increases of IL-6, TNF-alpha and IL-1 beta levels were found in mitogen-stimulated cultures from aged donors, occurring at 24 to 72 h after stimulation. No significant differences were observed for IFN-gamma production. Proliferative capability of cells stimulated with PHA was not impaired in aged subjects. Since the amounts of all cytokines studied were similar in unstimulated cultures from young and aged subjects, and also serum levels of TNF-alpha did not differ, these data indicate that the cellular machinery for the production of these cytokines is well preserved in aging, and also that cells from old people are able to up-regulate their production in response to appropriate stimuli. The increases in cytokine synthesis were not dependent on changes in the number of monocytes, nor were they related to the significant rise of CD45RO+, and the concomitant decrease of CD45RA+, occurring in both CD4+ and CD8+ lymphocytes from aged subjects. The increased production of pro-inflammatory cytokines by stimulated mononuclear cells of healthy aged subjects may be relevant to several aspects of age-associated pathological events, including atherosclerosis, osteoporosis, fibrosis and dementia.