Human and murine squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) have been reported to produce proinflammatory cytokines IL-1alpha, IL-6, GM-CSF, and IL-8 or KC. Production of individual members of the proinflammatory cytokine family has been associated with increased tumor growth or metastasis in a variety of neoplasms. In this study, we determined whether the expression of these cytokines occurs as a result of the events of cellular transformation or culture, or is promoted by interaction of neoplastic cells with factors or cells in the host environment. We compared the expression of proinflammatory cytokines following the spontaneous transformation of murine keratinocytes in vitro, and following the formation of tumors and metastases from these transformed keratinocytes in syngeneic recipients in vivo. Using sensitive ELISA assays, we found that cultures of the in vitro transformed Balb/c SCC line Pam 212 do not produce elevated levels of proinflammatory cytokines IL-1alpha, IL-6, GM-CSF and KC, indicating that transformation or culture alone is insufficient to account for the level of cytokine expression detected in patient and experimental tumors. In contrast, Pam reisolates from primary and metastatic tumors were obtained which constitutively produce markedly elevated levels of cytokines IL-1alpha, IL-6, KC and GM-CSF. The increase in the expression of these cytokines by SCC in vivo occurred independent of T and B lymphocyte-mediated immunity, since increases in expression of the cytokines was observed in lines reisolated from immunodeficient athymic nude and SCID Balb/c congenic mice. The increased expression of cytokines appeared to result from additional events in vivo, rather than due to selection of a pre-existing cytokine-producing subpopulation, since clones of the parental cell line expressed lower cytokine levels than cloned reisolates, and clones of the non-secreting parental cell line that formed tumors in vivo secreted elevated levels of cytokines following reisolation. We conclude that the development of SCC that express proinflammatory cytokines is promoted by tumor-host interaction(s) that are independent of specific T and B cell immunity.