The effect of interleukin 10 (IL-10) on proliferation and cytokine secretion by acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) blast cells was investigated in vitro. IL-10 inhibited spontaneous AML blast proliferation for a majority of patients, whereas in the presence of exogenous growth factors (granulocyte-stimulating factor, G-CSF; granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor, GM-CSF; interleukin 3) the IL-10 effect on blast proliferation showed a wide variation depending on the individual AML patient. IL-10 seemed to cause an irreversible inhibitory effect on AML blasts, as inhibition could also be demonstrated when IL-10 was present only during the initial preincubation of the leukemia cells. IL-10 also inhibited AML blast colony formation. However, independent of the effect on AML blast proliferation, IL-10 decrease cytokine secretion from AML blast cells for all patients, as demonstrated for IL-1 alpha, IL-1 beta, tumor necrosis factor-alpha, GM-CSF and interleukin 6. IL-10 did not inhibit development of apoptosis in AML blasts cultured in vitro. Expression of complement receptors and capability to adhere and internalize bacteria by AML blasts were not altered by IL-10.