Interleukin-10 (IL-10) is an acid-sensitive protein of 35 kD that has pleiotropic effects including inhibition of cytotoxic T-cell response, induction of major histocompatibility complex type II in B lymphocytes, induction of B-cell growth and differentiation, and autocrine growth factor activity in monocytes. We and others have shown that IL-10 is produced spontaneously by blood mononuclear cells from human immunodeficiency virus-seropositive patients. In an attempt to ascertain the potential role of IL-10 in acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)-related B-cell lymphoma, we evaluated the expression of human IL-10 in both tumor-derived B-cell lines and primary tumor cells. Expression of human IL-10 (hIL-10) mRNA and protein was detected in four of five cell lines examined. An IL-10 antisense oligonucleotide inhibited IL-10 mRNA expression and IL-10 protein production. The proliferation of all B-cell lines was inhibited by an antisense oligonucleotide in a dose-dependent manner that was abrogated by the addition of recombinant hIL-10 protein. No effect of antisense oligonucleotide was observed in the B-cell line not producing hIL-10. Evaluation of primary tumor cells from patients with AIDS-lymphoma cells showed similar production and response to IL-10. These data suggest an autocrine growth mechanism for IL-10 in AIDS-related lymphoma cells and that IL-10 may be important in its pathogenesis.