Because the immunomodulatory effects of antibiotics could possibly influence the degree of the systemic and local response to infection, knowledge of their intrinsic influence on the host's inflammatory response appears to be essential. Therefore, this study investigated the effects of frequently used antimicrobial agents (β-lactams, quinolones gentamicin, vancomycin and metronidazole) on the in-vitro tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α and interleukin (IL)-6 production of isolated human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMNC), cultured with or without endotoxin, in comparison with those effects obtained in a whole-blood assay system. In the presence of ciprofloxacin, ofloxacin, gentamicin, vancomycin, and metronidazole, a significant inhibition of the endotoxin-stimulated TNF-α production of human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMNC) was found at therapeutic levels. Only ofloxacin showed a significant inhibitory influence on the endotoxin-induced IL-6 production of PBMNC. In the whole-blood assay, significant effects were not detectable. None of the antibiotics showed cytotoxicity. It is concluded that, at present, the direct immunological effects of antibiotics should be interpreted carefully with regard to the experimental conditions, and regardless of the therapeutic implications. To assess the potential direct immunomodulatory effect of antimicrobial agents, different cell culture procedures should be used.