The frequency of isolation of Burkholderia cepacia from the sputum of cystic fibrosis (CF) patients is increasing. Using the human A549 lung epithelial cell line, we have investigated the ability of B. cepacia exoproducts to stimulate interleukin-8 (IL-8) release. Cell-free supernatants from a panel of CF clinical, non-CF clinical, and nonclinical B. cepacia isolates were found to stimulate IL-8 release, with levels ranging from 11.8 +/- 2.8 to 80.0 +/- 3.5 ng/ml. A similar pattern was seen at the level of the IL-8 mRNA. The bioactivity of the IL-8 was confirmed by examining its effect on the intracellular free calcium in neutrophils and inhibition by a neutralizing anti-IL-8 antibody. B. cepacia lipopolysaccharide, which was able to stimulate IL-8 release from monocytes, did not release IL-8 from the A549 cells. Furthermore, the stimulating ability of the bacterial cell-free supernatant was not diminished by polymyxin B, was markedly reduced by boiling, and appeared unrelated to N-acylhomoserine lactones. The ability of B. cepacia to elicit IL-8 release from epithelial cells may be important in the pathology of CF.