Interleukin (IL) 4 is a multifunctional T cell-derived cytokine that inhibits cytokine production and certain effector functions in human monocytes, while enhancing others. We show that IL-4 may contribute to the downregulation and resolution of an inflammatory response by selectively promoting expression of the IL-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1ra) that blocks the action of IL-1. IL-1ra specifically binds to the IL-1 receptor without initiating signal transduction. Peripheral blood monocytes obtained from cancer patients, before and immediately after a regimen of IL-4 immunotherapy, were examined for IL-1ra gene expression. After IL-4 therapy, monocytes from the patients showed a marked increase in IL-1ra mRNA. This selective induction of IL-1ra mRNA in circulating monocytes was reflected by significantly enhanced serum levels of IL-1ra (p < 0.01) during IL-4 therapy, which declined after IL-4 treatment. In vitro analysis of IL-4 regulation of monocytes from normal individuals revealed a dose-dependent induction of IL-1ra mRNA within 2-4 h after stimulation without a concomitant effect on the expression of IL-1 mRNA. Increased IL-1ra mRNA was not due to RNA stabilization, but occurred at the level of transcription. In the presence of LPS, IL-4 not only augmented IL-1ra levels, but markedly inhibited LPS-induced IL-1 mRNA expression. The selective upregulation of IL-1ra by resting or activated monocytes, coupled with inhibition of IL-1 production by activated monocytes, as we demonstrate both in vitro and in vivo, suggests that IL-4 may prove clinically useful as a systemic antiinflammatory agent.