Developing and healing dermal inflammatory lesions were produced in rabbits by the topical application of dilute sulfur mustard (SM), the military vesicant. In tissue sections of such lesions, cells containing the mRNA of important cytokines were identified with in situ hybridization techniques. These cytokines were neutrophil attractant/activation protein-1 (NAP-1 (also called IL-8), monocyte chemoattractant (activating) protein 1 (MCP-1), interleukin 1 (beta) (IL-1 (beta)), and GRO (a growth factor and chemokine). Mononuclear cells (mainly macrophages and activated fibroblasts) contained the mRNA of all four of these cytokines. A higher percentage of cytokine-producing mononuclear cells (macrophages and activated fibroblasts) was present in lesions at 2 days (their peak size) than at 6 days, when they were almost healed. Granulocytes emigrated from the bloodstream, passed through the lesions, and were the major constituent of the protective crust. This sequence correlated with the distribution of cells able to produce NAP-1: At 2 days and 6 days, the mononuclears that contained messenger RNA for this granulocyte chemoattractant were found mainly in the upper part of the dermis. At 2 days and 6 days, cells containing the mRNA of IL-1, a primary cytokine, were also found predominantly in the upper dermis, i.e., nearest the site of injury. In contrast, mononuclears containing the mRNA of MCP-1 (a monocyte chemoattractant), and the mRNA of GRO (a granulocyte chemoattractant) were more equally distributed throughout the dermis. SM stimulated hair follicle epithelial cells to up-regulate GRO mRNA and, to a lesser degree, NAP-1 mRNA. Apparently, the irritation produced by SM directly or indirectly induces such epithelial cells to manufacture these growth factors. In the rabbit, hair follicles are known to be the main source of new epithelial cells after the covering epithelium has been destroyed. Therefore, GRO is probably a major autocrine-paracrine stimulus for such repair. A brief review of the role of cytokines in dermal inflammation is presented.