Incubation of the human U937 histiocytic lymphoma cell line with granulocyte-macrophage colony stimulating factor (GM-CSF) rendered the cells responsive to induction of TNF by LPS. Treatment with IL-6 reduced TNF production in GM-CSF-primed U937 cells. The inhibitory effect was most pronounced (approximately equal to 80%) when IL-6 was added either along with GM-CSF or within the first 3 h of GM-CSF treatment. Both GM-CSF or IL-6 inhibited [3H]TdR uptake in U937 cells, and simultaneous treatment with GM-CSF and IL-6 resulted in an additive inhibitory effect on cell proliferation. However, the inhibition of TNF production could not be explained by the inhibitory effect of IL-6 on cell growth, nor was it due to a reduction in cell viability. An inhibition of TNF production by IL-6 was also demonstrated in cultured human peripheral blood monocytes. Treatment with IL-6 also resulted in a dose-dependent reduction of the 17-kDa TNF band revealed by SDS-PAGE after labeling monocytes with [35S]cysteine and immunoprecipitation with anti-TNF mAb. In addition, treatment with IL-6 resulted in a reduction of monocyte in vitro cytotoxicity for tumor target cells. Finally, in mice sensitized by the administration of Bacillus Calmette-Guérin, the injection of IL-6 significantly reduced the levels of TNF found in the serum upon challenge with LPS. Inasmuch as TNF is known to be an inducer of IL-6, the inhibitory action of IL-6 on TNF production may represent the negative arm of a regulatory circuit. The inhibitory action of IL-6 on TNF production is consistent with a predominantly antiinflammatory role of IL-6 in the intact organism.