Résumé : Real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) has recently been described as a new tool to measure and accurately quantify mRNA levels. In this study, we have applied this technique to evaluate cytokine mRNA synthesis induced by antigenic stimulation with purified protein derivative (PPD) or heparin-binding haemagglutinin (HBHA) in human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from Mycobacterium tuberculosis-infected individuals. Whereas PPD and HBHA optimally induced IL-2 mRNA after respectively 8 and 16 to 24 h of in vitro stimulation, longer in vitro stimulation times were necessary for optimal induction of interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) mRNA, respectively 16 to 24 h for PPD and 24 to 96 h for HBHA. IL-13 mRNA was optimally induced by in vitro stimulation after 16-48 h for PPD and after 48 to 96 h for HBHA. Comparison of antigen-induced Th1 and Th2 cytokines appears, therefore, valuable only if both cytokine types are analysed at their optimal time point of production, which, for a given cytokine, may differ for each antigen tested. Results obtained by real-time PCR for IFN-gamma and IL-13 mRNA correlated well with those obtained by measuring the cytokine concentrations in cell culture supernatants, provided they were high enough to be detected. We conclude that real-time PCR can be successfully applied to the quantification of antigen-induced cytokine mRNA and to the evaluation of the Th1/Th2 balance, only if the kinetics of cytokine mRNA appearance are taken into account and evaluated for each cytokine measured and each antigen analysed.