The production of cytokine mRNAs, in addition to viral DNA, was quantified by real-time quantitative reverse transcription-PCR (RT-PCR) (cytokines) or PCR (virus) in splenocytes during the course of Marek's disease virus (MDV) infection in four inbred chicken lines: two resistant (lines 61 and N) and two susceptible (lines 72 and P). Virus loads were only different after 10 days postinfection (dpi), increasing in susceptible lines and decreasing in resistant lines. Gamma interferon (IFN-γ) mRNA was expressed by splenocytes from all infected birds between 3 and 10 dpi, associated with increasing MDV loads. For other cytokines, differences between lines were only seen for interleukin-6 (IL-6) and IL-18, with splenocytes from susceptible birds expressing high levels of both transcripts during the cytolytic phase of infection, whereas splenocytes from resistant birds expressed neither transcript. These results indicate that these two cytokines could play a crucial role in driving immune responses, which in resistant lines maintain MDV latency but in susceptible lines result in lymphomas.