The effects of dexamethasone on the growth of four human multiple myeloma cell lines were studied. In addition, the effects on the expression of interleukin-6 (IL-6) and IL-6 receptor (IL-6R) genes were investigated by the use of reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction. Dexamethasone (Dex) concentrations of 10(-7) to 10(-6) mol/L inhibited IL-6 gene expression in three of four cell lines studied, whereas the higher concentration of the hormone inhibited also IL-6R gene expression. Dex effects were modulated through the glucocorticoid receptor (GR). Dex treatment resulted in killing of sensitive cells associated with DNA fragmentation, which could be reversed by concomitant treatment with IL-6. The reversal of Dex-mediated effects by IL-6 did not result from an inhibition of GR function as measured by receptor nuclear translocation or Dex-regulated reporter gene function. These results indicate that blockage of the IL-6 signaling pathway is essential for effective myeloma cell kill by Dex.