Mycobacterium avium-intracellulare (MAI) is an opportunistic pathogen commonly found in acquired immunodeficiency syndrome patients, whose immune systems are severely compromised. However, normal responses to this bacterium are apparently sufficient to prevent disseminated infection because disease is rarely found unless an immunocompromised state is present. Because interleukin-6 (IL-6) is an inflammatory cytokine with a multitude of activities, we investigated the potential of MAI to induce IL-6 from normal human leukocytes. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells were fractionated into monocytes (Mo), large granular lymphocytes (LGL), and T cells and stimulated with bacteria. Culture supernatants were collected and assayed for IL-6 activity by bioassay. Mo and LGL, but not T cells, were found to release IL-6 within 12 hours of stimulation, with optimal production occurring by 2 days of culture. Production of IL-6 from human leukocyte subsets was confirmed by Northern blot analysis and by neutralization of biologic function of the culture supernatants with specific antisera. Taken together, these results indicate that production of IL-6 is a key response of Mo and LGL to MAI. The role of IL-6 in MAI infection, therefore, needs to be further investigated.