The mechanism of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)-induced inflammation in the airways of infants and children is not fully understood. We hypothesized that RSV directly induces interleukin (IL)-8 gene expression in airway epithelial cells, independent of IL-1 beta and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) production. Exposure of A549 cells (an airway epithelial cell line) to RSV resulted in increased IL-8 mRNA expression and IL-8 protein release from the cells as early as 2 h after treatment. Neither IL-1 beta nor TNF-alpha (mRNA or protein) were detected. Viral replication was not necessary for the effects of RSV on IL-8 mRNA expression and protein release early in the infectious process. However, sustained levels of increased IL-8 production required RSV replication. A dose-response relationship was observed between the multiplicity of infection and IL-8 production with both active and nonreplicative RSV at the 2-h time point. Both active RSV and nonreplicative RSV increased the transcriptional activity of the 1.6-kb 5' flanking region of the IL-8 gene. Neither active RSV nor nonreplicative RSV increased the stability of the IL-8 mRNA in A549 cells. We conclude that RSV increases IL-8 gene expression in A549 cells in a biphasic pattern independent of viral replication early (2 h) but dependent on viral replication late (24 h).