Superantigens are potent inducers of T-cell proliferation and induce a broad range of cytokines, including tumor necrosis factor (TNF), gamma interferon, and interleukin 2 (IL-2). In the present study, we compared the abilities of different staphylococcal superantigens (staphylococcal enterotoxin B [SEB], staphylococcal enterotoxin E [SEE], and toxic shock syndrome toxin 1 [TSST-1]) to stimulate distinct cytokine profiles in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC), lamina propria lymphocytes (LPL), and intraepithelial lymphocytes (IEL). One million PBMC, LPL, and IEL were stimulated with various concentrations of superantigen (10 to 0.001 ng/ml) for 24, 48, and 72 h. Maximum cytokine production by PBMC, LPL, and IEL was observed for all three superantigens at 48 h at a concentration of 1 ng/ml. In PBMC, SEE and TSST-1 stimulated more IL-2 and gamma interferon than SEB. SEE and TSST-1 also stimulated more TNF and IL-4 production than SEB. In contrast, SEB stimulated more IL-6 than either SEE or TSST-1. In LPL, there was no SEE-induced IL-2 or IL-4 production, but IL-6, TNF, and gamma interferon were induced. SEB similarly induced no IL-2 or gamma interferon from the LPL, but IL-4, IL-6, and TNF were detected. TSST-1 stimulation of LPL resulted in IL-2 and TNF production but no IL-4, IL-6, or gamma interferon. In IEL, SEE induced no IL-2, IL-4, or gamma interferon but produced IL-6 and TNF, while SEB stimulation resulted in no IL-2 or gamma interferon but did result in detectable IL-4, IL-6, and TNF. Taken together, these data indicate that there are significant differences in the cytokine profiles induced by superantigens in LPL and IEL compared with those in PBMC, and these differences may relate to differences in activation requirements.