A direct correlation has been reported between the severity of symptoms associated with rhinovirus infection and the concentration of interleukin-8 in nasal secretions. The purpose of these studies was to examine the mechanism of rhinovirus-induced IL-8 elaboration. Rhinovirus infection induced oxidative stress in Beas-2b cells and the concentration of H2O2 in supernatant media from rhinovirus challenged cells was 12.5 +/- 6.1 microM 1 h after challenge compared to 0.7 +/- 0.3 microM in supernatant from control cells. N-acetyl cysteine inhibited RV-induced NF-kappaB activation and IL-8 elaboration. IL-8 concentrations were 36 +/- 2 pg/ml and 10 +/- 1 pg/ml 6 h after virus challenge in untreated and NAC-treated (30 mM NAC) cells, respectively. Despite the effects of NAC on IL-8 elaboration and NF-kappaB activation, RV stimulated increases in supernatant H2O2 were not altered by NAC. These data suggest that RV stimulation of IL-8 in respiratory epithelium is mediated through production of oxidative species and the subsequent activation of NF-kappaB.