Chronic inflammation induced by bacteria often leads to host-mediated destruction of tissues adjacent to the sites of microbial insult. The chronic inflammatory process of adult periodontitis results in the destruction of supporting osseous and connective tissues of the teeth. We hypothesized that virulence factors of periodontal pathogens such as lipopolysaccharide stimulate inflammatory cytokine expression by mononuclear cells of the host which contribute to disease development. In this study, to elucidate the role of these cytokines in chronic adult periodontitis, we tested whether the prevalence of mRNA for inflammatory cytokines generally associated with mononuclear phagocytes was higher in diseased than in healthy gingival tissue. Gingival mononuclear cells or whole gingival biopsies from 32 adult periodontitis patients and five healthy individuals used as controls were evaluated for inflammatory cytokine mRNA expression by reverse-transcription polymerase chain-reaction (RT-PCR) procedures. The cytokines assessed included IL-1α, IL-1β, IL-1ra, IL-6, IL-8, IL-12, IL-13, TNF-α, TGF-β, and IFN-γ. The monocyte/macrophage lipopolysaccharide (LPS) receptor CD14 was also assessed. Results showed that TNF-α mRNA was present significantly more frequently in diseased than in healthy biopsies, whereas IL-1α, IL-1β, and IL-1ra mRNA were found in most (from 80 to 100%) healthy tissues. Message for CD14 was present in both healthy and diseased tissue samples (100%). This study provides evidence for a major role of TNF-α in chronic adult periodontitis. Moreover, our results suggest that the mononuclear cells derived from periodontal tissues have the capacity to respond to components of periodontal pathogens and express both pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines in these tissues.