In an effort to study whether human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) can disrupt the balanced cytokine network that controls human hematopoiesis, we investigated the ability of a laboratory strain HCMV (AD169) to alter the production of interleukin-6 (IL-6) by cultured endothelial cells (HUVECs). ECs are important components of human bone marrow stroma and produce factors that stimulate the proliferation and differentiation of human hematopoietic progenitors. HCMV was able to greatly increase production of both mRNA and protein for IL-6 in unprimed HUVECs. When we discriminated between viral pellet and cleared viral supernatants, the supernatants induced an increase in mRNA at 30 minutes and protein by 2 hours, whereas an increase in IL-6 caused by virus itself did not become evident until 12 hours. The possibility that IL-6 induction was simply caused by the presence in the viral stock of endotoxin, IL-1 alpha, IL-1 beta, tumor necrosis factor alpha, or IL-4, all known inducers of IL-6 in HUVECs, was ruled out by the addition of polymyxin B and appropriate neutralizing antibodies. These findings show that HCMV is capable of directly and indirectly modulating the production by HUVECs of IL-6, one of the cytokines involved in the process of hematopoiesis.