During periods of smoking, patients with Behcet's disease have less oral aphthae than in abstinence. To elucidate this observation, human keratinocytes and dermal microvascular endothelial cells (HMEC-1) were incubated with serum of 20 patients with Behcet's disease and 20 healthy controls for 4 hours. Maximum non-toxic concentrations were determined and the cells were further treated with 6 mu M nicotine, 3.3% cigarette smoke extract (CES), 100 mu M biochanin A, and 6.25/12.5 mu M pyrrolidine dithiocarbamate alone and in combinations for 24 hours. Serum IL-8 levels of patients were significantly lower than those of controls. However, after 4 hours incubation with patients' sera, IL-8 release by both cell types was markedly increased when compared with the corresponding serum levels. The levels of IL-6 and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) release were after 4 hours similar with the corresponding levels in serum. IL-1 was not detected. Nicotine significantly decreased IL-8 and -6 release by HMEC-1 maintained in both patients' and controls' sera, but only IL-6 release by keratinocytes maintained in patients' sera. VEGF release by both cells was markedly increased after nicotine treatment in either serum. CES significantly decreased IL-8 release and increased production of VEGF in keratinocytes maintained in patients' serum. The phytoestrogen biochanin A alone and in combination with nicotine further decreased the secretion of IL-8, -6, and VEGF in all experimental settings. Our data support a specific anti-inflammatory effect of nicotine on keratinocytes and endothelial cells maintained in the serum of patients with Behcet's disease. Moreover, biochanin A is likely to exhibit similar and even more profound results than nicotine.