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Peritoneal exudative polymorphonuclear neutrophils (PEC-PMN) and mononuclear cells (PEC-MNC) were obtained from normal BALB/c and from autoimmune MRL-lpr/lpr mice (lpr) with different disease severities. The spontaneous and mitogen-stimulated expression of T-helper lymphocyte type-1 (Th1) [represented by interferon-γ (IFN-γ) and interleukin (IL-2)] and T-helper lymphocyte type-2 (Th2) (represented by IL-4 and IL-10) cytokine mRNA in these cells was detected by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). The production of these cytokines was measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). We found that the spontaneous expression of Th1/Th2 cytokine mRNA in PEC-PMN from autoimmune mice was progressively increased in parallel with disease severity but was not changed by lipopolysaccharide (LPS) stimulation. By contrast, spontaneous expression of Th1/Th2 cytokine mRNA in PEC-MNC from these mice was progressively decreased in parallel with disease severity but retained the responsiveness to phytohaemagglutinin (PHA) stimulation. To determine the effect of PEC-PMN on Th1/Th2 cytokine production by PEC-MNC, autologous PEC-PMN and PEC-MNC were co-cultured at MNC:PMN ratios of 5:0, 4:1, 3:2, 2:3, 1:4 and 0:5 with PHA stimulation for 24 hr. The production of cytokines at each ratio was compared with the expected value, by calculation. We found that PEC-PMN from autoimmune mice progressively suppressed the production of IL-4, IL-10 and IFN-γ whereas the production of IL-2 was enhanced by autologous MNC in parallel with disease severity. These results suggest that a reciprocal relationship exists in the expression of Th1/Th2 cytokine mRNA between PEC-PMN and PEC-MNC in lpr mice in parallel with disease severity. Autoimmune PEC-PMN can exert significant modulatory effects on Th1/Th2 cytokine production by autologous MNC in stimulation.