We examined the effect of cytokines on basal and agonist-stimulated release of von Willebrand factor (vWf) by human endothelial cells. Treatment of endothelial cells for up to 48 hours with human recombinant or purified interleukin 1 (IL-1) or human recombinant tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) did not significantly affect constitutive secretion of vWf or intracellular levels of vWf, although basal prostacyclin (PGI2) production was markedly enhanced. In contrast, both IL-1 and TNF-alpha modulated vWf release in response to thrombin or phorbol ester. Pretreatment of endothelial cells for 2 hours with either cytokine enhanced by up to threefold the stimulatory effect of a subsequent 60-minute exposure to thrombin. Addition of cycloheximide (5 micrograms/mL) during the preincubation abolished this enhancement. Moreover, if the cytokine pretreatment time was extended to 24 hours, agonist-stimulated vWf release was significantly suppressed. Cytokine treatment for 2 or 24 hours had no detectable effect on levels of vWf messenger RNA. The effects of cytokines were not the result of contamination with bacterial lipopolysaccharide and were not attributable to endothelial cell injury. These results show that cytokines have little or no direct effect on vWf release from endothelial cells but can significantly modulate its acute release in response to other stimuli in a complex time- and dose-dependent manner.