IL-4 inhibits production of certain proinflammatory cytokines, including IL-1 beta, TNF-alpha, and IL-6, by activated monocytes. Although monocytes are a major source of IL-6, other cell types such as fibroblasts and endothelial cells can also express this cytokine. To determine whether IL-4 inhibits IL-6 expression in non-hemopoietic cells, we investigated the effects of IL-4 on IL-6 production in both primary human fibroblasts and fibroblast lines. Rheumatoid synovial fibroblasts were evaluated in these studies because, like monocytes, they produce high levels of IL-6 when stimulated with IL-1. Although peripheral blood monocytes did not constitutively express IL-6 mRNA or protein, stimulation with IL-1 or LPS induced de novo IL-6 expression in these cells. In contrast, synovial fibroblasts displayed a significant basal level of IL-6 production, which was markedly increased after stimulation with IL-1. IL-4 suppressed IL-6 expression in monocytes, but did not inhibit IL-6 production in synovial fibroblasts. The inability of IL-4 to suppress IL-6 synthesis in rheumatoid synovial fibroblasts was not caused by a lack of IL-4R and was not unique to these cells because IL-4 also failed to inhibit IL-6 production in normal fibroblast lines derived from other tissues. Inhibition of IL-6 production by IL-4 in monocytes was associated with decreased nuclear NF-kappa B levels. However, IL-4 does not globally suppress the activity of all DNA-binding proteins because IL-4 treatment did not reduce the levels of NF-IL-6 or NF-IL-1 beta B in the same cells. Because NF-kappa B activation is required for transcription of many cytokine genes, including IL-6, the ability of IL-4 to suppress NF-kappa B activity in monocytes suggests a potential mechanism by which this molecule may inhibit the expression of multiple cytokines.