Interleukin-8 (IL-8), a member of the family of small inducible cytokines, is mainly known for its striking neutrophil-activating properties. Constitutive IL-8 production is negligible in normal leukocytes. We examined expression of IL-8 and its receptor in purified leukemic cells from patients with untreated acute myeloblastic leukemia (AML) and lymphoid leukemias. In the majority of cases (18 of 26 AML, 8 of 15 lymphoid leukemias), the cells constitutively expressed IL-8 mRNA transcripts. In all but 3 of these cases, IL-8 mRNA-expressing cells secreted biologically active IL-8 protein. Immunocytochemical analysis showed intracellular IL-8 (5% to 90% of total cells), demonstrating that the leukemic cells themselves rather than contaminants (monocytes or lymphocytes) were the source of IL-8. Ten of 25 AML samples expressed IL-8 receptor mRNA and, with 1 exception, the IL-8 receptor expressing cells also produced its ligand. In contrast, all lymphoid leukemias were negative. Furthermore, frequent coexpression of IL-8 and IL-1 beta transcripts was seen in both AML and lymphoid leukemia samples, whereas fewer cases coexpressed IL-8 and either macrophage colony-stimulating factor or granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor. In leukemic cells expressing the IL-8 receptor, IL-8 induced cytosolic free calcium changes, indicating activation of the classical signaling pathway. These results suggest that IL-8 may have biologic activities in hematopoiesis.