We have studied the effect of immune complexes (IC) on interleukin (IL)-12 secretion by human monocytes in vitro. Two experimental models of IC were used. IC formed of tetanus toxoid and polyclonal anti-tetanus toxoid antiserum as well as heat-aggregated human serum IgG almost completely inhibited IL-12 (p70 and p40) secretion induced by interferon-gamma and lipopolysaccharide in human blood-derived monocytes. Neutralizing anti-IL-10 antibodies plus indomethacin restored IL-12 secretion in the presence of IC to a high extent, indicating that IL-10 and prostaglandin (PG) partially mediate the IC-induced inhibition of IL-12 secretion. However, neutralization of tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha by specific antibodies also incompletely restored IL-12 secretion. Indeed, monocytes secrete high levels of TNF-alpha upon stimulation by IC. We found that exogenously added TNF-alpha caused a profound inhibition of monocytic IL-12 secretion in the absence of IC, again mediated via the induction of IL-10 and PG. In summary, IC inhibit IL-12 secretion via TNF-alpha-induced IL-10 and PG synthesis. We conclude that IC, typically appearing in the course of chronic inflammatory processes, may influence the balance between Th1 and Th2 responses and may thus contribute to a deprivation of cell-mediated immune responses.