To investigate the regulatory effects of the prototypic Th2 lymphocyte products and potential immunotherapeutic agents interleukin-4 (IL-4) and IL-10 on macrophages differentiated in vitro under different cytokine toxine-defined environments, blood monocytes were incubated for 7 days in the presence of granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), macrophage colony-stimulating factor or IL-4. The effect of monocyte culture in the presence or absence of serum was also investigated. Functional responses by 7-day-cultured cells to IL-4, quantified as decreased CD14 expression and suppression of lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-induced tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) and IL-1β production, and as a positive response, increased CD23 expression, were compared directly with the responses by monocytes from which they were derived. In response to IL-10, decreases in LPS-induced TNF-α and IL-1β production and reduction in the expression of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II antigens were examined. Seven-day cultured monocytes/macrophages showed (1) diminished TNF-α production in response to IL-10 but not IL-4 (2), diminished IL-1β production in response to both IL-4 and IL-10, and compared with fresh monocytes (3), diminished CD14 expression in response to IL-4, and (4) a lesser increase in CD23 expression in response to IL-4. This was the case regardless of the cytokine in the presence of which the cells had been cultured for 7 days. Monocytes cultured for 7 days in GM-CSF expressed increased levels of MHC class II and LPS-induced TNF-α and responded inefficiently to IL-10 for decreased MHC class II. The responses by monocytes cultured for 7 days with GM-CSF resemble the published properties of synovial fluid macrophages from patients with chronic inflammatory arthritis. The study highlights the complexity of monocyte/macrophage responses to the immunoregulatory cytokines IL-4 and IL-10 and concludes that responses to IL-4 and IL-10 by blood monocytes may not be representative of responses by their differentiated or activated counterparts.