Cytokines such as granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM- CSF), macrophage-CSF (M-CSF), neutrophil-activating peptide- 1/interleukin-8 (NAP-1/IL-8), and interleukin-6 (IL-6) are pivotal in the regulation of hematopoiesis and immune responses. In mesenchymal cells, their expression is induced by tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF) and other agents. We now show that, while induction of cytokine expression by TNF in human lung fibroblasts was parallel, glucocorticoid hormones differentially affected their production. Dexamethasone (1 mumol/L) concordantly repressed expression of GM-CSF, NAP-1/IL-8 and IL-6. RNA and protein levels were reduced to approximately 5%, 20%, and 30% of control cells, respectively, as determined by Northern blot analyses and immunoassays. A 50% reduction of RNA levels for all three cytokines occurred in the range of 1 hour. In contrast, dexamethasone (1 mumol/L) did not decrease M-CSF RNA levels and protein release. M-CSF RNA and protein levels were maintained even when dexamethasone (1 mumol/L) was present for the whole duration of a 48-hour TNF stimulation. Further experiments showed that dexamethasone downregulates expression of GM-CSF, NAP-1/IL-8, and IL-6 mainly by decreasing the mRNA stability of these cytokines, and that the dexamethasone-mediated repression of cytokine expression depends on ongoing protein and RNA syntheses. Our study suggests that glucocorticoid hormones repress expression of a set of cytokine genes important in conditions of stress. However, they seem not to affect M- CSF expression, which is likely to be more crucial in maintaining long- term functions of myeloid cells.