Cells that produce interleukin-6 (IL-6) require the presence of signaling molecules since this cytokine is not normally constitutively expressed. It is now established that astrocytes produce IL-6; however, the precise inducing molecules and the kinetics of their action have not yet been clearly identified. In the current study, we show that either interleukin-1β (IL-1β) or tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) exert a strong inducing signal for IL-6 in primary rat astrocytes. When the two cytokines are added together the response is synergistic, suggesting that each cytokine may induce IL-6 gene expression by different pathways. Interferon-γ (IFN-γ) does not affect IL-6 expression although if it is added in conjunction with IL-1β, an augmented induction of IL-6 occurs. In addition to the cytokines, bacterial lipopolysaccharide (LPS) and the calcium ionophore, A23187, induce IL-6 expression. IL-6 expression can be blocked by the glucocorticoid analogue, dexamethasone. IL-6 induction by LPS/Ca2+ ionophore is more sensitive to the suppressive effects of dexamethasone than is IL-6 induction by TNF-α/IL-1β. Cycloheximide (CHX), an inhibitor of protein synthesis, markedly increased levels of IL-6 mRNA in both unstimulated and stimulated astrocytes, indicating that ongoing protein synthesis is not required for astrocyte IL-6 gene expression. We propose that astrocyte-produced IL-6 may have a role in augmenting intracerebral immune responses in neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS), AIDS dementia complex (ADC), and viral infections. These diseases are characterized by infiltration of lymphoid and mononuclear cells into the central nervous system (CNS), and intrathecal production of immunoglobulins. IL-6 may act to promote terminal differentiation of B cells in the CNS, leading to immunoglobulin synthesis. © 1990.