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During human immunodeficiency virus infection and allergic diseases, characterized by a dominant T helper (Th) 2 response, overproduction of prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) is observed. In this paper we studied the effect of PGE2 on interleukin (IL)-12 synthesis, because this cytokine has been described to be essential in induction of Th1 responses. IL-12 synthesis was induced in monocytes that were stimulated with Neisseria meningitidis-derived lipopolysaccharide in whole blood cultures. PGE2 almost completely inhibited lipopolysaccharide induced IL-12 production, whereas IL-6 production was only partially inhibited by PGE2. In contrast, the production of IL-10 was approximately twofold enhanced at these conditions. The effects of PGE2 were due to its cAMP- inducing capacity, since they could be mimicked by other cAMP inducers. Recombinant human IL-10 also inhibited IL-12 and IL-6 production. However, the inhibitory effect of PGE2 on IL-12 production was independent of IL-10 since neutralizing anti-IL-10 antibodies were unable to reverse this inhibition. These results suggest that the capacity of an antigen to induce PGE2 synthesis may play a crucial role in the development of either a Th1 or Th2 response.