Among other effects, prostaglandins (PG) of the E series are known to inhibit several acute and chronic inflammatory conditions in vivo and proinflammatory cytokine production by activated macrophages in culture. The research presented here demonstrates that the inhibitory effect of PGE2 on tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) and interleukin 6 (IL-6) production by lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-stimulated murine peritoneal macrophages involves IL-10. In a dose-dependent manner, PGE2 inhibits LPS-induced release of TNF-alpha and IL-6, but not of lactate or nitric oxide. The decrease in the level of these cytokines is inversely proportional to the increase in immunoreactive IL-10. This differential inhibitory effect of PGE2 is mimicked by agents that elevate intracellular levels of cAMP, but not cGMP. Neutralizing anti IL-10 antibody but not neutralizing antibodies against other macrophage secretory products (IL-6, leukemia inhibitory factor, and transforming growth factor beta [TGF-beta]), significantly reverse the potent inhibitory effect of PGE2. In vivo, the administration of PGE2 before LPS challenge significantly reduces circulating TNF-alpha and IL-6 levels. Anti-IL-10 antibody substantially enhanced the LPS-induced TNF-alpha and IL-6 levels in mice that received either LPS alone or LPS plus PGE2. These results suggest that the anti-inflammatory effect of PGE2 on mononuclear phagocytes is mediated in part by an autocrine feedback mechanism involving IL-10.