Activated macrophages produce quinolinic acid (QUIN), a neurotoxin, in several inflammatory brain diseases including AIDS dementia complex. We hypothesized that IL1-beta, IL6, transforming growth factor (TGF-beta2 and platelet activating factor could increase macrophage QUIN production. And that the HIV-1 proteins Nef, Tat and gp41 may also increase synthesis of QUIN by macrophages. At 72 h there were significant increases in QUIN production in the cells stimulated with PAF (914 +/- 50 nM) and Nef (2781 +/- 162 nM), with somewhat less production by Tat stimulation (645 +/- 240 nM). The increases in QUIN production approximated in vitro concentrations of QUIN shown to be neurotoxic and correlated closely with indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase induction. IL1-beta, IL6, TGF-beta2 and gp41 stimulation produced no significant increase in QUIN production. These results suggest that some of the neurotoxicity of PAF, nef and tat may be mediated by QUIN.