Several cytokines have been suggested to play a regulatory action on the neoplastic clone of patients with B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia (B-CLL) by interfering in the differentiation, proliferation, or death/survival pathways. Interleukin-8 (IL-8) is a chemoattractant protein constitutively expressed at the mRNA level and released by B- CLL cells. In view of the presence of the IL-8 receptor mRNA and of specific IL-8 binding, confirmed also by Scatchard analysis using 125I- IL-8, the study was extended to evaluate the possible regulatory role of this cytokine on B-CLL cells. IL-8 failed to show any in vitro proliferative effect on leukemic B-CLL cells. By contrast, the propidium iodide (PI) staining of the DNA content showed that IL-8 could prolong the survival of resting B-CLL cells in 11 of 16 cases studied. In the remaining 5 cases, 90.6% +/- 4.39% SD of the cells after culture remained viable and IL-8 could exert a significant death protection action after pretreatment with 10(-4) mol/L hydrocortisone, which reduced the percentage of viable B-CLL cells. The dose range of IL-8 capable of inducing the prolonging survival effect is comparable with the levels of IL-8 released constitutively by B-CLL cells, indicating that the death protection action is exerted at physiologic doses. The in vitro rescue from death induced by IL-8 is reflected by an increased expression of bcl-2 mRNA in B-CLL cases incubated in the presence of IL-8. These findings were further confirmed at the protein level, because in B-CLL cells that displayed a bimodal bcl-2 intracytoplasmatic protein expression IL-8 was capable of upmodulating the bcl-2high expression peak. The potential autocrine regulatory action exerted by IL-8 is supported by the evidence that exogenous IL-8 can upregulate IL-8 mRNA in B-CLL cells. These results, together with the demonstration that antibody-mediated neutralization of endogenous IL-8 could induce a significant in vitro reduction in the number of living cells, further support the hypothesis that, in B-CLL, the physiologic doses of IL-8 released constitutively by the leukemic clone may play an autocrine role in the process of cell accumulation characteristic of this disease.