Expression of mRNA for IL-1 alpha, IL-1 beta, IL-2, IL-4, IL-5, IL-6 and TNF-alpha in inflamed gingiva was quantitatively examined by ribonuclease protection assay and in situ hybridization. The IL-1 beta mRNA expression level was statistically high (P < 0.05) in periodontitis-affected tissues compared with that in gingivitis-affected tissues. The densities of macrophages (identified as CD68-positive cells) and CD45RO-positive cells infiltrating in the inflamed gingiva correlated statistically with IL-1 beta transcript levels (macrophages, P < 0.001; CD45RO-positive cells, P < 0.002). In situ hybridization revealed IL-1 beta mRNA expression in infiltrating cells, presumed to be macrophages. The IL-1 alpha and IL-6 mRNA expression levels were much lower than the IL-1 beta transcript level, and mRNAs for IL-2, IL-4, IL-5 and TNF-alpha were negligible in these gingival tissues. The results indicate that IL-1 beta is a cytokine expressed predominantly in inflamed gingiva and reflects the density of infiltrating macrophages and other leukocytes.