The production of interferons (IFNs), IFN-gamma, tumor necrosis factors (TNFs) and TNF-alpha (TNF-alpha) by peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMNCs) of untransfused and transfused, but otherwise untreated patients with severe aplastic anemia (SAA) was determined using bioassays and immunoassays. In untransfused and pretransfused SAA patients, spontaneous and lectin-induced production of these cytokines by PBMNCs was strongly enhanced. Cytokine production in untransfused SAA patients did not differ from that in pretransfused patients. Similar relative frequencies of activated (HLA-DR+) lymphocyte subpopulations present in the PBMNCs demonstrated cytokine overproduction per cells. Cytokine production was studied in three SAA patients before and after blood cell transfusions. Spontaneous and lectin-induced production of these cytokines was abnormally high and unaffected by blood transfusions. In another patient exhibiting abnormal cytokine production, the hematopoietic response to cyclosporin- A in vivo was accompanied by normalization of cytokine production in vitro. We conclude that overproduction of IFN-gamma and TNF-alpha by lectin-stimulated PBMNCs is an intrinsic abnormality of SAA unrelated to blood transfusions. Normalization of production of IFN-gamma and TNF- alpha accompanying a clinical response to cyclosporin-A may cautiously be taken as further evidence suggesting a pathogenetic role of cytokine overproduction in SAA.