Immune complexes (IC) can induce cytokine production in vitro. While immune aggregates (IA) consisting of heat-aggregated gamma globulin (HAGG) as model IC increased interleukin (IL)-10 levels in cell cultures with native human serum, IL-12p40/p70 production was inhibited. Three series of experiments suggested that the effects of IA on IL-12 production depended on a functionally intact complement system: (1) heat-inactivation of serum inverted the inhibitory effect of IA on IL-12p40/p70 production; (2) IA-induced IL-12p40 production in a C4 deficient serum was lowered by addition of C4; and (3) addition of the peptide compstatin, which blocks C3 activation, mimicked the effects of heat inactivation on IL-12p40 levels. Neutralization of IL-12 resulted in modestly increased IL-10 levels, while neutralization of IL-10 had no effects on IL-12p40 production. IA-induced production of IL-10 was partially blocked by anti-Fcγ RII antibodies, whereas Fcγ R or CR blockade had no effect on IL-12p40 production. IC and local or systemic complement activation characterize rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus and many malignancies. Different and complement-dependent effects on the production of IL-10 and IL-12 can be of importance in these diseases, where control of the complement system might be a way to direct IC-induced cytokine production in either a type 1 or type 2 direction.