Granulocyte-macrophage CSF (GM-CSF) is a potent stimulator of macrophages and neutrophils and is produced by rheumatoid arthritis (RA) synovium. We now report studies that identify some of the synovial cells and cytokines responsible for local GM-CSF production and gene expression in RA. GM-CSF was assayed by ELISA in supernatants from cultured RA fibroblast-like synoviocytes stimulated with various cytokines (IL-1 beta, TNF-alpha, macrophage-CSF, IFN-gamma, IL-6, and TGF-beta). Immunoreactive GM-CSF was detected in IL-1 beta and TNF-alpha-stimulated cultures, but not in cells cultured in medium or stimulated with any of the other cytokines. IL-1 and TNF-alpha had a synergistic effect on GM-CSF production. GM-CSF gene expression by fibroblast-like synoviocytes was analyzed by ribonuclease protection assay, Northern blot analysis, and in situ hybridization. Both IL-1 beta and TNF-alpha induced GM-CSF mRNA accumulation, with a maximum effect after 4 h of stimulation. We then studied GM-CSF production by macrophage-like synoviocytes (MLS) isolated from fresh synovial specimens by flow microfluorimetry. Fresh MLS spontaneously secreted the cytokine and exogenous IL-1 beta or TNF-alpha had no effect. After 1 wk in culture, additional stimulation with IL-1 beta or TNF-alpha was required for GM-CSF production. Finally, in situ hybridization performed on freshly isolated subpopulations of synovial cells, identified GM-CSF RNA transcripts in MLS.