We have previously shown that induction of synthesis of the two major human acute phase proteins, serum amyloid A (SAA) and C-reactive protein (CRP), can be accomplished in the human hepatoma cell line Hep 3B, in the presence of dexamethasone, either by conditioned medium from LPS-stimulated monocytes or by the combination of IL-6 and IL-1. Neither of these cytokines alone caused significant induction of either SAA or CRP. In the present study we extended our earlier observations by evaluating the role of dexamethasone, the effect of different concentrations of IL-6 and IL-1 alpha in combination, and the possible role of TNF-alpha in regulating synthesis of SAA and CRP. Dexamethasone alone had no effect on induction of SAA or CRP. Incubation of Hep 3B cells with conditioned medium from LPS-stimulated monocytes, in the absence of dexamethasone, led to modest induction of SAA or CRP, but addition of dexamethasone potentiated this response in a dose-dependent manner. Similar results were obtained for the effect of dexamethasone on the induction of SAA by IL-6 plus IL-1 alpha. Checkerboard titration of IL-6 and IL-1 alpha revealed that increases in concentration of either cytokine led to dose-related increases in synthesis of both SAA and CRP as long as a minimal amount of the other cytokine was present. TNF-alpha alone had no significant effect on synthesis of either SAA or CRP, but the combination of IL-6 plus TNF-alpha led to substantial induction of SAA. This combination was less effective than the combination of IL-6 plus IL-1 alpha. No detectable effect of IL-6 plus TNF-alpha was observed on CRP synthesis. Both combinations of cytokines, IL-6 plus IL-1 alpha, and IL-6 plus TNF-alpha, caused increased SAA mRNA accumulation that roughly paralleled increase in synthesis. These data indicate that IL-6, IL-1 alpha, TNF-alpha, and dexamethasone in various combinations are all capable of influencing synthesis of SAA in Hep 3B cells, whereas only IL-6, IL-1 alpha, and dexamethasone can influence CRP synthesis.