Human breast carcinomas are frequently infiltrated by inflammatory cells secreting several cytokines which may regulate the activity of both immune cells and neoplastic cells. The present study was designed to examine the potential action of interleukin-4 (IL-4) and interleukin-13 (IL-13) in human breast cancer cells. Exposure of ZR-75-1 breast cancer cells to IL-4 or IL-13 for 10 days decreased the amplitude of the mitogenic action of 17 beta-estradiol by 75% and 55%, respectively, while these cytokines failed to change basal cell proliferation. These cytokines also exerted a similar action in T-47D cells. Exposure to IL-4 or IL-13 markedly increased gross cystic disease fluid protein-15 (GCDFP-15) release in both ZR-75-1 and T-47D cells. The half-maximal stimulatory effects of IL-4 and IL-13 on GCDFP-15 secretion were exerted at respective values of 16 +/- 3 pM and 91 +/- 8 pM in T-47D cells incubated for a period of 10 days. The effect of IL-13 was not additive to that elicited by IL-4, whereas the stimulation of GCDFP-15 release by these interleukins were additive to that exerted by maximally effective concentrations of the androgen dihydrotestosterone and the synthetic glucocorticoid dexamethasone. Furthermore, exposure of ZR-75-1 cells of IL-4 and IL-13 increased GCDFP-15 mRNA levels by 5.5- and 6.0-fold, respectively. The present results demonstrate that IL-4 and IL-13 may decrease estrogen-induced breast cancer cell proliferation and induce the expression of a breast cancer marker, thus strongly suggesting that breast cancer cells are targets of both IL-4 and IL-13 action.