We postulated that defective generation of granulocyte colony- stimulating factor (G-CSF) by cells of newborn infants might underlie their deficiencies in upregulating neutrophil production and function during bacterial infection. To test this, we isolated monocytes from the blood of preterm neonates, term neonates, and adults and, after stimulation with various concentrations of interleukin-1 alpha (IL-1 alpha) or lipopolysaccharide (LPS), quantified G-CSF concentrations in cell supernatants and G-CSF mRNA in cell lysates. When stimulated with plateau concentrations of IL-1 alpha for 24 hours, G-CSF concentrations were higher in supernatants of adult cells (8,699 +/- 5,529 pg/10(6) monocytes) than in those from term infants (2,557 +/- 442 pg, P < .05) or from preterm infants (879 +/- 348 pg, P < .05 v adults). When stimulated with plateau concentrations of LPS, supernatants of monocytes from preterm neonates had less G-CSF than did those from term neonates or adults. G-CSF mRNA content was low in cells from preterm infants, higher in those from term infants, and highest in those from adults. On the basis of the in vitro studies, we speculated that serum G-CSF concentrations might be less elevated in neutropenic neonates than in neutropenic adults. Indeed, serum concentrations were relatively low in all nonneutropenic subjects; 92 +/- 34 pg/mL (mean +/- SEM) in 10 preterm neonates, 114 +/- 21 pg/mL in 16 term neonates, and 45 +/- 13 pg/mL in 11 healthy adults. Serum concentrations were not elevated in 7 neutropenic neonates (39 +/- 17 pg/mL) but were in 8 neutropenic adults (2101 +/- 942 pg/mL, P < .05 v healthy adults). Other studies suggested that the lower G-CSF production in neonates is not counterbalanced by a heightened sensitivity of G-CSF--responsive progenitors to G-CSF. Therefore, we speculate that newborn infants, particularly those delivered prematurely, generate comparatively low quantities of G-CSF after inflammatory stimulation, and that this might constitute part of the explanation for their defective upregulation of neutrophil production and function during infection.