A cytokine synthesis inhibitory factor (CSIF) is secreted by Th2 clones in response to Con A or antigen stimulation, but is absent in supernatants from Con A-induced Th1 clones. CSIF can inhibit the production of IL-2, IL-3, lymphotoxin (LT)/TNF, IFN-gamma, and granulocyte-macrophage CSF (GM-CSF) by Th1 cells responding to antigen and APC, but Th2 cytokine synthesis is not significantly affected. Transforming growth factor beta (TGF-beta) also inhibits IFN-gamma production, although less effectively than CSIF, whereas IL-2 and IL-4 partially antagonize the activity of CSIF. CSIF inhibition of cytokine synthesis is not complete, since early cytokine synthesis (before 8 h) is not significantly affected, whereas later synthesis is strongly inhibited. In the presence of CSIF, IFN-gamma mRNA levels are reduced slightly at 8, and strongly at 12 h after stimulation. Inhibition of cytokine expression by CSIF is not due to a general reduction in Th1 cell viability, since actin mRNA levels were not reduced, and proliferation of antigen-stimulated cells in response to IL-2, was unaffected. Biochemical characterization, mAbs, and recombinant or purified cytokines showed that CSIF is distinct from IL-1, IL-2, IL-3, IL-4, IL-5, IL-6, IL-7, IFN-gamma, GM-CSF, TGF-beta, TNF, LT, and P40. The potential role of CSIF in crossregulation of Th1 and Th2 responses is discussed.