The early response to inflammation is characterized by the synthesis of a variety of proteins under cytokine and glucocorticoid control. During episodes of infection or inflammation, a secretory phospholipase A2 (sPLA2) appears in the circulation along with a variety of acute-phase proteins (APP), suggesting possible common regulatory elements amongst sPLA2 and APP. Using the human hepatoma line, HepG2, regulation of sPLA2 expression was examined in relation to synthesis of HP and ACH. The patterns of induction of sPLA2, HP and ACH were distinct for each of IL-1, tumour necrosis factor (TNF) and IL-6, oncostatin M, IL-11 and leukaemia inhibitory factor. Dexamethasone had an enhancing effect on IL-6-induced expression of HP and ACH, but inhibited sPLA2 expression by 50%. Both 8-bromo-cAMP and dibutyryl cAMP increased sPLA2 expression (48.8-fold and 64.2-fold, respectively), whereas KT5720, an inhibitor of protein kinase A, down-regulated cytokine-induced sPLA2 synthesis by 51%. These data show that a panel of cytokines induced varying patterns of up-regulation of sPLA2, ACH and HP. Although dexamethasone potentiated IL-6-induced APP expression in HepG2 cells, it suppressed sPLA2 expression in a dose-dependent manner. In several respects, sPLA2 regulation is similar to that of HP and ACH, but a notable difference is the reciprocal effect of glucocorticoids on sPLA2 expression compared with that of ACH and HP.