Neutrophils play an important role in inflammatory processes in the lung and may cause tissue injury through, for example, release of proteinases such as neutrophil elastase. In addition to neutrophil elastase, stimulated neutrophils also release small nonenzymatic and cationic polypeptides termed defensins. The aim of the present study was to investigate whether defensins induce interleukin (IL)-8 expression in cells of the A549 lung epithelial cell line and in human primary bronchial epithelial cells (PBEC). Supernatants of defensin-treated A549 cells contained increased neutrophil chemotactic activity (16-fold) that was inhibited by antibodies against IL-8. Concurrently, within 3 and 6 h, defensins significantly increased the IL-8 levels in supernatants of both A549 cells (n = 6, P < 0.05 and P < 0.01, respectively) and PBEC (n = 4, P < 0.001 and P < 0.001, respectively). This defensin-induced increase was fully inhibited by the serine proteinase inhibitor alpha 1-proteinase inhibitor. In addition, defensins also increased IL-8 mRNA levels (12-fold); this increase was dependent on de novo mRNA synthesis and did not require protein synthesis. Furthermore, defensins did not affect IL-8 mRNA stability, indicating that the enhanced IL-8 expression was due to increased transcription. Our findings suggest that defensins, released by stimulated neutrophils, stimulate IL-8 synthesis by airway epithelial cells and thus may mediate the recruitment of additional neutrophils into the airways.