The mixed lymphocyte reaction (MLR) has previously been used to elucidate pathways of cytokine activation and T-lymphocyte proliferation and is regarded as a model that simulates responses in allograft rejection. Studies have indicated that interleukin-1 (IL-1), a potent inflammatory cytokine, may have an important activating role in the MLR response. The discovery of a naturally occurring IL-1 receptor antagonist protein (IRAP) has renewed interest in control of IL-1--dependent responses both in vitro and in vivo. MLR cultures were used to study the role of IL-1 and IRAP in the regulation of subsequent cytokines during a T-lymphocyte-mediated alloantigen response. The temporal expression of IL-1 and IRAP during 5-day one-way MLR assays suggested antagonistic production of the two cytokines. IL-1 was produced early in the response, peaking at 4 hours through day 2, subsequently declining to near-background levels on day 5 of culture. In contrast, production of IRAP was delayed until day 2, steadily increased on days 3 and 4, and peaked on day 5 of culture, which correlated with the declining levels of IL-1. The addition of graded doses of IRAP (25 to 1,000 ng/mL) to MLR cultures decreased IL-1 production but had no effect on T-lymphocyte proliferative response. In addition, IRAP had little effect on the production of either IL-2 or tumor necrosis factor. The addition of 25 ng/mL of IRAP to MLR assays showed significantly decreased levels of two potent chemotactic cytokines, IL-8 and macrophage inflammatory protein-1 alpha (MIP-1 alpha), at peak chemokine production on day 5 of culture. The levels of IL-8 and MIP-1 alpha could be restored by the addition of IL-1 to the IRAP-treated cultures. IL-8 and MIP-1 alpha represent the two different families of chemotactic cytokines, C-X-C (IL-8) and C-C (MIP-1 alpha), and potentially play important roles in the recruitment of leukocytes to a site of immune allogeneic response. These studies indicate that regulation of IL-1 by IRAP does not significantly reduce T-lymphocyte activation but can regulate the production of chemokines involved in leukocyte recruitment.