Fibroblasts were cultured from affected skin sites of patients with progressive systemic sclerosis (PSS), from unaffected skin sites of the same patients, and from a healthy donor. The concentration of interleukin 6 (IL-6) in culture medium conditioned by the growth of early passage cells was determined by radioimmunoassay and by quantitative bioassay. Results demonstrated that fibroblasts from affected PSS skin produce from 6 to 30-fold higher levels of biologically active IL-6 compared to unaffected and control cells. In contrast, serum IL-6 concentrations in 6 of 8 patients examined were not significantly different from healthy donors. Serum IL-6 levels were elevated 2 to 3-fold in 2 of 8 patients examined. Thus, the overproduction of IL-6 by affected scleroderma fibroblasts does not necessarily correlate with a systemic increase in IL-6, but may increase its concentration locally. In view of its biological activities, including stimulation of antibody production and T cell activation, the overproduction of IL-6 by PSS fibroblasts in the lesions may play a significant role in the pathogenesis of PSS and may profoundly influence the course of the disease.