An extract of Urtica dioica folium (IDS 23, Rheuma-Hek), monographed positively for adjuvant therapy of rheumatic diseases and with known effects in partial inhibition of prostaglandin and leukotriene synthesis in vitro, was investigated with respect to effects of the extract on the lipopolysaccharide (LPS) stimulated secretion of proinflammatory cytokines in human whole blood of healthy volunteers. In the assay system used, LPS stimulated human whole blood showed a straight increase of tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) and interleukin-1 beta (IL-1 beta) secretion reaching maximum concentrations within 24 h following a plateau and slight decrease up to 65 h, respectively. The concentrations of these cytokines was strongly positively correlated with the number of monocytes/macrophages of each volunteer. TNF-alpha and IL-1 beta concentration after LPS stimulation was significantly reduced by simultaneously given IDS 23 in a strictly dose dependent manner. At time 24 h these cytokine concentrations were reduced by 50.8% and 99.7%, respectively, using the highest test IDS 23 assay concentration of 5 mg/ml (p < 0.001). After 65 h the corresponding inhibition was 38.9% and 99.9%, respectively (p < 0.001). On the other hand IDS 23 showed no inhibition but stimulated IL-6 secretion in absence of LPS alone. Simultaneously given LPS and IDS 23 resulted in no further increase. In contrast to described effects on arachidonic acid cascade in vitro, tested Urtica dioica phenol carbon acid derivates and flavonoides such as caffeic malic acid, caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid, quercetin and rutin did not influence LPS stimulated TNF-alpha, IL-1 beta and IL-6 secretion in tested concentrations up to 5 x 10(-5) mol/l. These further findings on the pharmacological mechanism of action of Urticae dioica folia may explain the positive effects of this extract in the treatment of rheumatic diseases.