BACKGROUND: Lung ischaemia-reperfusion (I/R) injury is correlated with poor clinical outcome. The inflammatory cytokines interleukin (IL)-6, IL-8, and monocyte chemotactic protein-1 (MCP-1) are produced by pulmonary epithelial cells during lung transplantation and are considered to be involved in I/R injury. The volatile anaesthetic sevoflurane has been shown to exert a protective effect on I/R injury in various organs. We investigated the effect of sevoflurane on the inflammatory functions of pulmonary epithelial cells in vitro. METHODS: Human normal small airway epithelial cells (SAEC) were incubated under anoxic conditions for 24 h with or without sevoflurane and then stimulated with tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-a under hyperoxic conditions for 5 h with or without sevoflurane. After incubation, IL-6, IL-8, and MCP-1 mRNA expression was analysed by quantitative real-time RT-PCR. The production of IL-6, IL-8, and MCP-1 was assayed by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, the effects of sevoflurane on inflammatory gene expression were examined by DNA microarray analysis, and the effects of sevoflurane on NF-?B-mediated inflammatory cytokine production were examined by immunoblotting. RESULTS: Sevoflurane suppressed TNF-a-induced IL-6, IL-8, and MCP-1 gene expression and the production of IL-6 and IL-8 in SAEC under anoxia/reoxygenation conditions. DNA microarray analysis indicated that sevoflurane modulated NF-?B-related gene expression. Sevoflurane significantly inhibited TNF-a-induced translocation of p65 NF-?B into the nucleus. Sevoflurane enhanced TNF-a-induced gene expression of inhibitor ?B (I?B) but not of NF-?B. CONCLUSIONS: Sevoflurane suppressed the NF-?B-mediated production of pulmonary epithelial cell-derived inflammatory cytokines, including IL-6 and IL-8, which are capable of causing I/R injury.