The expression of the proinflammatory cytokine leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF) has been reported in the cartilage and synovium of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients. Here, we show that high levels of LIF were constitutively produced by cultures of synovium pieces. Low levels of LIF were produced spontaneously by isolated synoviocytes, but interleukin (IL)-1β caused a fourfold enhancement of this secretion. The anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-4 reduced the production of LIF by synovium pieces by 75%, as observed earlier with IL-6, IL-1β and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α. IL-4 had a direct effect since it inhibited LIF production by unstimulated and IL-1β- or TNF-α-stimulated synoviocytes. Conversely, IL-4 enhanced the production of IL-6, which shares with LIF biological activities and receptor components. The inhibitory effect of IL-4 was dose dependent and was reversed using a blocking anti-IL-4 receptor antibody. Similar inhibitory action of IL-4 on LIF production was observed on synovium pieces from patients with osteoarthritis and on normal synoviocytes. IL-10, another anti-inflammatory cytokine acting on monocytes, had no effect on LIF production by either synovium pieces or isolated synoviocytes. Thus, the production of LIF by synovium tissue was inhibited by IL-4 through both a direct effect on synoviocytes and an indirect effect by inhibition of the production of LIF-inducing cytokines.